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American Assassin (A Movie Review)

Updated: Mar 17, 2020

American Assassin


Starring Dylan O’Brien, Michael Keaton, Taylor Kitsch, Saana Lathan, Scott Adkins, David Suchet, Shiva Negar, Sydney White, Göksun Çam, Kamil Lemieszewski, Kiera Bell, Navid Negahban, Evie Wray, Chris Webster, Trevor White, Andrew Pleavin, Michael Wildman, Alaa Safi, Joseph Long, Bentley Kalu, Khalid Laith and Joost Janssen.

Screenplay by Stephen Schiff & Michael Finch and Edward Zwick & Marshall Herskovitz.

Directed by Michael Cuesta.

Distributed by CBS Films. 105 minutes. Rated R.

Since his comeback a few years ago with Birdman, Michael Keaton has been on one hell of a winning streak. He’s made one good film after another, following his Oscar-nominated Birdman role with another Oscar-nominee in Spotlight, then the underrated Ray Kroc bio-film The Founder. Just this summer, he played the most interesting and nuanced comic supervillain in years in Spider-Man: Homecoming. He even did a voice in the hit animated film Minions.

He was due a clunker.

American Assassin is that clunker, though this is through no fault of Keaton. In fact, Keaton is pretty much the main reason you would have to watch this over-busy, over-violent, muddled action film. The movie is not very good, but Michael Keaton is very good in it. His character is pretty much the one interesting character in the film, and that is due in great part to Keaton’s natural charisma. He takes a bad part and makes it better through sheer force of personality. And because he is there, the movie seems stronger than it really is.

Not that Keaton is the main character, sadly. He is just a supporting player in this filmed video-game. Starring in maximum-glare mode is the normally reliable Dylan O’Brien, his usual charisma on low, mumbling through millions of rounds of submachine-gun fire.

American Assassin is a spy drama, though its espionage plot makes little or no sense. The film starts when a group of heavily armed mercenaries, led by Taylor Kitsch, inexplicably massacre a bunch of tourists on a luxury beach resort. One of the few survivors was former soldier Mitch Rapp (O’Brien), who of course had just proposed to his gorgeous girlfriend moments before she was mowed down by dozens of rounds of artillery.

Flash forward a few years, where Rapp has become a jaded vigilante mercenary, trying to go undercover in the group that killed his fiancée. When he is captured by the head of military intelligence (Sanaa Lathan) and Rapp’s loose cannon former CO (Keaton), they all make a tense alliance to bring down the terrorist group.

What happens next? Beats the shit out of me. Lots of car chases, thousands of rounds of artillery are shot, there are lots of explosions and many, many people die. There is something of a story to keep the carnage going, but not really. It’s all just an excuse to kill lots and lots of people.

Some people will undoubtedly find American Assassin action-packed and stimulating. I found it deadening and mind-numbing, like spending two hours passively watching someone else play a video game.

Michael Keaton deserves a lot better. And honestly, so does Dylan O’Brien.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2017 All rights reserved. Posted: September 15, 2017.

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