Anyone who’s seen the trailers for “American Assassin” knows exactly how the film begins: Mitch Rapp (played by “The Maze Runner”‘s Dylan O’Brien) proposes to his girlfriend on a tropical beach while on vacation, only to lose her minutes later during a terrorist attack.
And yet, as I was watching this intense opening scene of “American Assassin” unfold, I instantly became hooked, buying-in 100% with Mitch, who immediately becomes motivated to seek revenge against those who killed the love of his life – and dozens of others. He trains for the next 18 months and infiltrates the enemy cell. The CIA takes notice and recruits him for one of their high-level programs.
Mitch becomes the prodigy of veteran agent Stan Hurley. Michael Keaton plays the psychotic, obsessive and unpredictable chief operative. The two team-up to hunt down and terminate a rogue American and his Middle Eastern partners who are putting together the pieces to build a nuke.
Yes, we’ve seen this plotline play-out on screen numerous times before. Several scenes involving the military leaders of various nations discussing their nuclear programs are duds. But thanks to nearly everything else, “American Assassin” works as a credible contemporary spy thriller.
Based on the best-selling 2010 novel by late author Vince Flynn, “American Assassin” is far less complicated than the “Bourne” or “Mission: Impossible” films, though there’s a nice twist about an hour in that definitely does the trick. The action, in particular the hand-to-hand combat sequences, is more than adequate. And there’s an “explosive” finale, that, while not visually stunning, is surprisingly gripping.
O’Brien is an engaging lead and seems quite comfortable as a millennial version of Jason Bourne. Keaton’s role is somewhat limited. He talks tough and barks plenty of orders, but doesn’t kick quite as much butt as I expected. However, thanks to a classic climactic scene with bad guy Taylor Kitsch, Keaton now has something in common with another Michael – Mike Tyson. Let’s just say, it’s a little ear-y to watch.
On The Official LCJ Report Card, “American Assassin” gets a B-.
Running Time: 111 min.