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With: Dylan O'Brien, Michael Keaton, Sanaa Lathan, David Suchet, Navid Negahban, Scott Adkins. Taylor Kitsch
Written by: Stephen Schiff, Michael Finch, Edward Zwick, Marshall Herskovitz, based on a novel by Vince Flynn
Directed by: Michael Cuesta
MPAA Rating: R for strong violence throughout, some torture, language and brief nudity
Running Time: 11
Date: 09/15/2017

American Assassin (2017)

2 Stars (out of 4)


By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Adding the word "American" to a movie title — though it frequently works wonders — is not always a guarantee that the film in question will seem important or even good.

Opening Friday in Bay Area theaters, the new American Assassin, for example, is definitely tired, and poor, and will play for very few huddled masses.

Based on a novel by Vince Flynn and directed by Michael Cuesta — whose last film was the excellent Kill the MessengerAmerican Assassin begins on a beautiful beach... surely a bad sign.

Mitch Rapp (Dylan O'Brien), who sometimes wears scruff and sometimes a full beard, but is never clean shaven, proposes to his pretty girlfriend. He goes to buy celebratory drinks when terrorists appear out of nowhere and shoot everyone.

Surviving, Mitch turns completely into a driven, cold, emotionless revenge-seeker, learning languages and disguising himself so that he can infiltrate and destroy various terrorist cells.

CIA Deputy Director Irene Kennedy (Sanaa Lathan) intercepts and recruits him, saying things like "this guy is off the charts" and "he's exactly what we've been looking for."

He is sent to train with the crusty Stan Hurley (Michael Keaton), who has trained many, but, of course, has never seen anyone quite like Mitch.

In the role, O'Brien — best known, apparently, for the Teen Wolf TV show and the Maze Runner films — sports a six pack and some fight training, but otherwise, it's hard to believe that he's as special as the film makes him out to be.

Together with the rest of a black ops team, Mitch and Hurley travel all around the world, tracking parts of a nuclear weapon, hoping to prevent it's ever being used.

The places they go are printed on the screen, like "Tripoli, Libya" and "Rome, Italy," although they are almost totally arbitrary. They could be in "Livermore, California," for all it has to do with the story.

Everything comes down to a "surprise" bad guy with a very weak motivation, and a shockingly absurd climax that should be ashamed of itself.

Pieced together by four credited writers, American Assassin is a collection of laughably bad expositional dialogue and overly complex plotting, making it both dumb and confusing at the same time.

Cuesta joins the ranks of accidental action filmmakers that cover up his lack of skill and experience with wonky camerawork and jagged editing; it's never clear what's happening, but something evidently is.

Aside from a riveting score by Oscar-winner Steven Price (Gravity), Michael Keaton is the movie's lone redeeming facet. Maybe he's the American Assassin the movie is talking about, since he kills all his scenes and comes out looking cool.

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