[Screen It]


(2021) (Maggie Q, Michael Keaton) (R)

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Action: When she believes her mentor has been murdered, a highly trained assassin sets out to find out who's responsible and make them pay.

Back when she was a kid in Vietnam, Anna Dutton (MAGGIE Q) saw men murder her entire family. Rescued and then raised and trained by hitman Moody Dutton (SAMUEL L. JACKSON), she's now a highly trained assassin who works alongside him. Despite their line of work, Moody has a guilty conscience about a job long ago that left the young son of arms dealer Edward Hayes (DAVID RINTOUL) orphaned, and Moody now wants to make amends. But his act of looking for the now grown man results in violent retribution that seemingly results in his death.

Wanting to find out who's responsible and make them pay, Anna returns to her home country where she gets some initial help from American ex-pat Billy Boy (ROBERT PATRICK) as she tries to find Hayes' former business partner, Vohl (PATRICK MALAHIDE). But that results in her having to contend with two men, Duquet (RAY FEARON) and Michael Rembrandt (MICHAEL KEATON), who work for the person pulling the strings. While both want her dead, Rembrandt also finds himself drawn to Anna, thus resulting in an odd "relationship" between the two as she leaves a swath of bodies in her wake.

OUR TAKE: 6 out of 10

A few years ago, much was made about Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, and Joe Pesci playing younger versions of their present-day characters in Martin Scorsese's "The Irishman." Rather than use "deep fake" technology where the actors' faces would be superimposed on substitute "host" actors with similar physical attributes, a great deal of time, effort, and money were put into de-aging the performers.

That allowed them to act with their bodies (as compared to the stand-in hosts), but the results were less than convincing. While that applied somewhat to their fake-looking faces, it really showed up with their bodies that still looked like those of men in their seventies, thus ruining the intended illusion.

Of course, there's a cheaper way to make performers and their characters behave in younger ways (albeit still with their current facial attributes) and that's through good editing. Mind you, I'm not referring to the kind that's filled with so many cuts in the action that you can tell the editor and, by default, the director are compensating for obvious limitations. Instead, I'm meaning the kind that hits the right balance where you forget the performer's real age and end up somewhat amazed by their physical prowess up on the screen.

Such is the case in "The Protege," and I'm not referring to star Maggie Q (who's only 42) who -- thanks to physical training and, yes, editing -- more than convincingly plays the action anti-hero of the story. Instead, it's her character's nemesis played by none other than Michael Keaton.

Granted, he's no stranger to action flicks -- after all, he played the Caped Crusader in Tim Burton's reimagining of Batman -- but that was around three decades ago. He's now sixty-nine, but you wouldn't guess that while watching him in action, whether that's battling Q's character or any number of bad guys.

He's the cool and sophisticated yet coldly lethal villain in this action thriller from director Martin Campbell ("Casino Royale," "The Mask of Zorro") who works from a script by Richard Wenk. The story, while keeping things constantly moving forward, isn't anything novel or even remarkable. It revolves around Q's Anna Dutton who -- with her business partner, mentor, and father figure of sorts, Moody (Samuel L. Jackson) -- finds people who don't want to be found. In other words, bad guys who have a bullet or two (or other lethal weapon) coming their way.

When Moody decides to look for the now-adult son of a bad guy he killed decades ago, that doesn't sit well with certain types. Anna then shows up at his place and he appears to be the victim of those who don't appreciate sleeping dogs being roused from their slumber. With Moody having saved her as a child from a family massacre in her home country of Vietnam, this ticks her off, and she sets out to find who's responsible and get her revenge.

All of which leads to a series of villains -- played by Patrick Malahide, Ray Pearson, David Rintoul, and, yes, Keaton -- who are connected in several ways and don't seem particularly worried about the woman's ability to do them harm. That is, until they see her in action, and what a sight that is to behold in all its decidedly R-rated, brutal glory. Feeling much like the "John Wick" flicks, the action is fast and furious and ends up going so far over the top -- along with other elements of the film, including the interesting "relationship" between Q and Keaton's characters -- that you simply have to surrender and go along for the ride.

And that includes watching the former Mr. Mom more than believably do his thing as he rounds the bend toward his seventies. Whereas De Niro and company didn't look real in their moments of action with their young faces and old bodies, that's not the case here, as Keaton and Q create mesmerizing action figures that more than hold our attention. While not for everyone and dinged a point or two for being derivative of many predecessors, "The Protege" is still entertaining enough to rate as a 6 out of 10.

Reviewed August 12, 2021 / Posted August 20, 2021

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