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Gunplay & Violence Fuel Heroics in ‘American Assassin’

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CHICAGO – There was another mass shooting (eight dead) in Texas this week, but it was underreported because it didn’t involve “undesirables” and just seemed like another week in America. This blithe attitude towards guns, gunplay and violence continues in the movies, this week with the overindulgent release “American Assassin.”

Based on the popular best seller by Vince Flynn, “American Assassin” is a boilerplate America-Saves-the-World story, made more palatable as a pretty decent action film and the presence of Michael Keaton (as the tough-but-benign special ops trainer). It was directed by Michael Cuesta, a veteran of TV’s “Homeland,” but adapted by four writers, a sign of story killing. It is naive in its geopolitics, preferring to filter it through a bent-on-revenge ex-CIA American than to make a statement about enemies. But there is still enough “undesirables” to fill the coffins. As the body count increases, it’s a bad year to be a government or oligarch henchman.

Mitch Rapp (Dylan O’Brien) has a bone to pick, as his girlfriend is murdered by terrorists just as they were to be engaged. Highly skilled and trained in weaponry and hand-to-hand combat, he seeks revenge by going into a hot zone as a civilian. He is rescued by the CIA, and noticed by Deputy Director Kennedy (Sanaa Lathan).

Michael Keaton Surveys the Target in ‘American Assassin’
Photo credit: Lionsgate

She is head of a Special Operations force called Orion, a covert assassination team headed by Stan Hurley (Michael Keaton). She brings in the raw material of Mitch Rapp, and Hurley formulates him to a fine honed assassin. Their first assignment involves a series of random targets, which leads to a joint mission with Turkish agent Annika (Shiva Negar) and a confrontation with the mysterious “Ghost” (Taylor Kitsch).

The film likes its violence… besides the inevitable guns fired and bullets infiltrating several bodies, there are torture scenes that are fairly graphic, knife play that keeps getting stabbier and even drowning trauma in a bathtub – sensitive viewers need not plunk down dollars – amongst a fairly decent story about nuclear materials stolen and Iran and Israel confrontation (with no explanation of the politics involved). The story falls flat when it filters the story through the American “Ghost” character, thus negating an accusation of being Islamophobic.

The film was an interesting choice for Michael Keaton, in the midst of a comeback with more interesting character roles (think his newspaper editor in “Spotlight”). He is playing the know-it-all black ops stud, and takes the brunt of the torture while pretending he doesn’t feel it (as in most films, the injuries received all clear up as if the human beings heal like cartoon characters, save for an artfully place facial cut). The role goes a bit further because it is Keaton, but he can’t save it from its “America First” simplicity.

Mitch (Dylan O’Brien) and Annika (Shiva Nagar) in ‘American Assassin’
Photo credit: Lionsgate

The younger title character is so underwritten, he seems like a robot portraying a killer. Something something parents were killed, something something revenge for attack on girlfriend, something something he’s now a rebel that angers Keaton’s Hurley. There is no connection to him, nor towards the evil of the “Ghost.” They have a final fight on a speeding motorboat (natch), which feels thrown in because there is a countdown clock on a suitcase nuke.

Oh well, the audience was cheering when the bad guys got shot, applauded when Batman/Birdman made his quips and got to admire the model-like American Assassin. The old saying should now read, “baseball, hotdogs, apple pie and body counts.”

“American Assassin” opens everywhere on September 15th. Featuring Michael Keaton, Dylan O’Brien, Sanaa Lathan, Shiva Negar and Taylor Kitsch. Screenplay adapted by Stephen Schiff, Michael Finch, Edward Zwick and Marshall Herskovitz, based on a novel by Vince Flynn. Directed by Michael Cuesta. Rated “R”

HollywoodChicago.com senior staff writer Patrick McDonald

Writer, Editorial Coordinator

© 2017 Patrick McDonald, HollywoodChicago.com

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