Review: American Assassin

Jason Bourne he ain't.

By Max Weiss | September 15, 2017, 10:39 am

-CBS Films

Review: American Assassin

Jason Bourne he ain't.

By Max Weiss | September 15, 2017, 10:39 am

-CBS Films

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I can’t conceive of a more boring character to revolve your franchise around than Mitch Rapp (Dylan O’Brien).

When we first meet Mitch, he’s on a beach where his girlfriend Katrina (Charlotte Vega) has just accepted his proposal of marriage. He’s giddy, at the tiki bar getting drinks to toast the occasion, when a gang of terrorists come charging through, gunning down the beach dwellers. Mitch himself is shot and he crawls desperately toward Katrina, only to watch her get killed before his eyes.

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Fast forward 18 months and Mitch, now sporting a very shaggy beard, has turned himself into a vengeance machine. He's that tired sexist trope—a man who couldn’t protect his woman in her moment of need and now will go to any lengths to avenge her. Since her death, he got jacked and learned hand-to-hand combat and how to handle all sorts of weapons. Improbably enough, he even taught himself to speak Arabic and studied the intricacies of the Quran.

Mitch’s plan is to infiltrate the terrorist cell that raided the beach. And he gets pretty far, even managing a one-on-one meeting with one of Katrina’s assassins. But his plan is disrupted when the CIA bursts into the meeting, killing everyone but Mitch. Turns out, they’d been surveilling Mitch for some time and knew what he was up to. And now CIA Deputy Director Irene Kennedy (Sanaa Latham) wants to recruit Mitch into her elite, black-ops, terrorism rub-out program—or whatever—run by tough-as-nails training officer Stan Hurley (Michael Keaton). The question is, can Mitch earn Stan’s trust—especially since the last elite recruit Stan took under his wing (Taylor Kitsch) went rogue and is now a well-trained mercenary who goes by The Ghost?

But here’s the problem with Mitch: He’s boring. He has no discernible personality beyond his desire for revenge. What makes him so deadly is that he just doesn’t care about his own life anymore. He’s numb. But how are we supposed to care about a character who doesn’t care about himself?

And honestly, Stan isn’t much more interesting. Of course, he’s played by Keaton, so he has a certain twitchy energy that is ever-watchable, but he’s a bit of a snore, too. And he has little chemistry with O’Brien’s Mitch. Turns out, two grunting, emotionally repressed macho guys don’t make for a particularly compelling partnership.

It almost goes without saying that the film’s politics are problematic at best. Virtually all the brown-skinned people are Quran-quoting terrorists, save Annika (Shiva Negar), the mysterious agent who teams up with Mitch. There’s a plot about an oppositional force in the Iranian government who are trying to buy a nuke from the Ghost so they can “kill Jews.” There’s a slight intimation that all this chaos can be pinned on Obama’s nuclear treaty with Iran.  

I could look beyond that and at least acknowledge that the film provided some thrills if I cared a whit about Mitch or Stan or even the underwritten Ghost. (Although it is kind of fun seeing Taylor Kitsch playing a baddie for a change.) It’s a shame. I’m a fan of Dylan O’Brien’s from The Maze Runner—I think he’s got promise. But he needs to choose better projects than this tired, played-out macho fantasy.

Meet The Author
Max Weiss is the managing editor of Baltimore and a film and pop culture critic.

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