Monday, September 25, 2017

Review: "American Assassin" basks in the ridiculous and wackiness

American Assassin Review

There is a movie like this that comes out every other September or so. Its a politically confused, popcorn-style action movie about an undercover spy working against a terrorist cell from the Middle East. Sometimes, we learn that the events of the film were later manipulated by the Americans. There is quite a bit of ridiculousness to much of these movies. But sometimes, they turn out great (Body of Lies), sometimes they turn out fun (The Kingdom), and sometimes they turn out bad (Green Zone). "American Assassin" is that September release. I feel it falls somewhere in the middle of good and bad.

The film opens with, as these movies usually go, with a sad terrorist attack. Mitch (Dylan O'Brien) proposes to his girlfriend on the sunny beaches of Spain. Suddenly, undercover Islamist terrorists begin gunning people down on the beach. One of the people among them is Mitch's girlfriend, Mitch himself is wounded and he is left for dead on the beach. Many years later, he is training himself to fight, use weapons, and spying. He is bent on revenge, and he plans to kill the terrorists that killed his family. Now, if you think about this too long, you'll give yourself a brain aneurysm. Yes, I get that there is supposed to be some suspension of disbelief when it comes to movies like this. Hell, Bruce Wayne trained himself to become Batman, something I don't think could be possible for anybody. But Batman lives in the realm of comic books. "American Assassin" is grounded in a James Bond-like reality. So I suppose I can get over the weirdness that some kid could successfully pass as a Muslim just by growing a beard and a mustache and he could somehow become a seasoned killer in a matter of months, even years. 

But okay, Mitch is in kill mode. He's making such a big splash that even the CIA is tracking him. But instead of bringing him in, Mitch is used as bait. Once Mitch is face-to-face with a big name terorrist leader, the CIA swoop in and kill everybody, and bringing Mitch to Langley. Again, its such a weird situation that you are either going to argue the logic of such a move or you are going to be having such a wacky fun time that you won't care. A CIA director Irene Kennedy (Sanaa Lathan) plans to recruit Mitch in a black ops group called Orion. Orion is lead by Stan Hurley (Michael Keaton) the highly decorated, no-nonsense military guys we usually see in these movies. Stan trains Mitch, and he rises to the top of Stan's operation then they eventually go after terrorists together.

The movie quickly becomes a checklist of notions we usually see in these movies. Mitch is difficult to train and to work with. Stan makes several speeches about how Mitch "can't get emotional" and "you're not ready" and blah, blah, blah. There is a secret behind the main villain of the movie that Stan is keeping from Mitch and the rest of the black ops team. The movie is working overtime in order to entertain the shit out of its audience. But the story itself features logic flaws. Its flimsy as a story line and it mostly feels like things I have already seen in better movies. 

Dylan O'Brien tries to make this work, and honestly he does a fairly good job. O'Brien is one of those young actors who actually has truth in his hype. You can kind of tell that if the role of Mitch was given to someone like Zac Efron, or someone similar, the movie may not have worked as a whole like it does here. O'Brien is a good lead, and proved that he can handle a grounded action movie. If he chooses, he may be bigger than the "Maze Runner" stuff, and that's always good to learn. Michael Keaton is, as always, incredibly good. He's having a great year with "The Founder" and "Spider-Man" and here he delivers once again a memorable performance. Taylor Kitsch turns up late in the movie and he does good work here. The movie is well cast and well-told by the actors.

What surprised me the most is just how uneventful the action scenes felt. Usually, in these grounded action movies, the action beats are the things we can rely on the most to pull us into the movie. I couldn't believe that the action scenes were so incredibly dull. I didn't feel thrilled watching the action scenes. In fact, I didn't feel much movement at all. There is a stiff feeling to the action beats in this movie, and it was the one thing that surprised me the most about watching "American Assassin."

If you go to a movie like "American Assassin," be prepared to be bored by the action scenes. Don't expect the movie to be very exciting, don't expect the story to make much sense. What you can expect is a cast of wonderful actors trying to make this count, and because of their passion, it kind of does. I can turn my brain off for a few hours and enjoy myself for the most part. But I can't go the full hundred, I have to go fifty, and the movie has to go fifty. I am not entirely sure that happened.

FINAL GRADE: C+

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