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"AMERICAN ASSASSIN"
(2017) (Dylan O'Brien, Michael Keaton) (R)


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QUICK TAKE:
Dramatic Thriller: Seeking revenge against terrorists who murdered his fiancée, a young man joins the CIA as a special agent trained by an experienced veteran.
PLOT:
Eighteen months after terrorists gunned down him and killed his fiancée along with many other innocent victims, former grad student Mitch Rapp (DYLAN O'BRIEN) is determined to get revenge. Having become proficient with weapons and martial arts, he's infiltrated the Islamic terrorist group responsible for the earlier attack, all with the intent of killing its leader and various members. But his actions have drawn the attention of the U.S. government and specifically CIA Deputy Director of Counterterrorism Irene Kennedy (SANAA LATHAN) who believes he could be a valuable asset to the agency and her team. Accordingly, she delivers him to the remote training facility run by ex-Navy SEAL Stan Hurley (MICHAEL KEATON). Along with the likes of fellow trainee Victor (SCOTT ADKINS), Mitch learns the ropes from the best, although his lack of discipline and propensity to not follow orders doesn't fully sit well with Stan.

Nonetheless, with an amount of Russian plutonium now missing, Stan has no choice but to put him and Victor into motion in hopes of stopping terrorists -- and specifically Iranian arms dealer Sharif (KHALID LAITH) -- from getting his hands on the material, having a bomb made, and using that somewhere in the world. Joined by field agent Annika (SHIVA NEGAR), Stan and his small team set out to find and stop Sharif, but they're unprepared for the unexpected appearance of one of Stan's former protégés, Ronnie, a.k.a. "Ghost" (TAYLOR KITSCH), who's since gone rogue and seems to be involved with the missing plutonium. From that point on, the small team does what it can to stop a nuke from being built and delivered, all while Mitch continues on his personal vendetta quest to kill terrorists and thus avenge his fiancée's murder.

OUR TAKE: 5 out of 10
You often hear about Islamic terrorists -- both abroad and domestic -- who were radicalized and set into motion by actions brought against them, their family, loves ones, or even just their community by military strikes delivered by the U.S. or their allies.

Revenge is mostly a human emotional response (not many animals simmer, stew and plot out their enemies' demise over a period of time) and the greater and/or more personal the trauma, the greater the desire to get even.

And while many Americans vent their outrage at certain ethnic groups as a whole after terrorist attacks, and some enter the military to go off and fight terrorism, you don't often hear about those who decide to take matters into their own hands and travel abroad to kill the leaders responsible for terrorist attacks.

Of course, anything's possible, and such people might exist and fly under the radar, fail and lose their lives, or be kept hush-hush by military and political types who'd rather the public not know about such individuals and their actions, especially if successful.

In most cases, however, such people only exist as movie characters in dramatic thriller or action films such as "American Assassin." In this offerings that's a cross between a Charles Bronson revenge flick from old and the international espionage of Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan universe, Dylan O'Brien plays Mitch Rapp, a young grad student frolicking on the beach with his girlfriend. After popping the big question, he heads off to get a few drinks when armed terrorists mow down everyone there, including Mitch and his fiancée.

Flash forward eighteen months and Mitch has whipped himself into extreme shape, become proficient with weaponry and martial arts skills, and infiltrated a terrorist network, making them believe he's a radicalized American. While he knows their guard is likely up, he's unaware that CIA Deputy Director of Counterterrorism Irene Kennedy (Sanaa Lathan) has surveillance watching his every move. But they're not concerned he's an American gone bad. Instead, they want him on their side and thus send him off to train with ex-Navy SEAL Stan Hurley (Michael Keaton) who puts him and other recruits through the paces of advanced ways to take out the really bad guys and live to tell about it.

Not surprisingly, the young man balks at rules, gets his rear handed to him by more advanced veterans during training, and eventually is called into action alongside Stan, another student (Scott Adkins) and a foreign field operative (Shiva Negar) to deal with missing plutonium that's feared is going to be used by Iranians to build a nuke and attack Israel.

Throw in a bunch of interchangeable terrorists and foreign government and military officials, a former protégé (Taylor Kitsch) of Stan's, and a race against the clock storyline to find and stop the bad guys before things go boom in a mushroom cloud sort of way, and there's very little here that feels fresh or novel.

Yet, director Michael Cuesta -- working from Stephen Schiff and Michael Finch and Edward Zwick & Marshall Herskovitz's adaptation of Vince Flynn's novel of the same name -- manages to make most of the nearly two-hour film serviceable, but nothing more. The action is handled decently enough without feeling over-edited or hyper stylish, the performances are okay but not particularly noteworthy (notwithstanding Keaton having some "fun" in his reaction to his character being tortured in one scene), and the story efficiently moves from point A to Z, but isn't remarkable or terribly engaging.

And while the source of the protagonist's pain is occasionally brought up and revisited, there's not enough digging into that or the resultant revenge psyche to make that part of the tale or the character himself that interesting. In the end, "American Assassin" is okay, but will instantly be forgotten or lumped together with many other similar sounding films of this genre. The movie rates as a 5 out of 10.




Reviewed September 13, 2017 / Posted September 15, 2017


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