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What’s up everybody? I’m Joe Baress and this is “Five Minutes in the Film Room.”
When I saw the trailer for American Assassin I was pretty excited. Dylan O’Brien, the star of the Maze Runner films, looked as though he was trying to break out, taking on the physicality of the role that not all actors strive for. If you remember my Spider-Man: Homecoming review, you know how much I like Michael Keaton, and he serves as O’Brien’s mentor in the movie. It’s a revenge flick, which is right up my alley. So all the pieces were in place. But then the trailer ended, and the release month flashed on the screen … September … OH NO!
Although we had American Made and It come out in September, the month is usually weak in quality and box office as it is in between the summer and Oscar movie seasons. Could American Assassin break the mold? … Let’s go to the tape.
This is the second straight movie I saw that has American in the title. The difference between the two … American Made is very good. American Assassin … not so much. But that doesn’t mean it is without merit.
Clearly this was not going to be a highbrow film. I knew that going in. Usually when a movie has a singular basic focus, I want it to jump right into the action. American Assassin did just that as it starts with a massacre on a beach. O’Brien’s character, Mitch Rapp, proposed to his girlfriend and a minute later terrorists stormed the beach with AK-47s and ripped its patrons to shreds. This is the best scene in the film as the director utilizes longer takes with limited cuts. Rapp runs back toward the ocean to save his fiancée as people run and get picked off alongside him. He gets to his fiancée, but it’s too late as she is gunned down right in front of him.
What I found pretty effective was that our main character Rapp gets shot, a couple times. Normally, you know the lead isn’t going to get hit with bullets. That he or she will be fine. But Rapp is really running for his life here. It was pretty impressive, and it keeps you on the edge of your seat. You also understand his motivations for the rest of the film because you just lived it.
So you’re pumped up. You’re strapped in. You’re ready to go. You’re reaching the top of that roller coaster. But after the rise … comes the fall. American Assassin never again approaches the level of that opening scene as it devolves into a run-of-the-mill assassin film that every once in a while steps up its game.
What bothers me most is the characters. They have no arc. And it’s such a waste because the quality actors are there with O’Brien, Keaton, Taylor Kitsch and Sanaa Lathan. I understand that after the death of his fiancée he becomes emotionally detached, but it works against the film. As I said many times, O’Brien has talent, but robbing him of emotions makes him into a wall or lamp that you throw in the corner. All of a sudden, your main character is uninteresting. And he never really bounces out of that. And he never grows. There’s a specific theme you wait for him to fulfill, but it just doesn’t happen.
Keaton, Kitsch and Lathan are much of the same. They are characters we have seen before with no depth as the movie switches to autopilot.
I do enjoy the action and some training sequences as O’Brien learns the craft of becoming a top-tier assassin work. One is a pretty cool virtual reality session, where an interesting idea is explored that could have led to a pretty good character building moment. But again it’s wasted as nothing comes of it.
THE BOTTOM LINE
I can’t say American Assassin let me down. All the signs were there that it would be a subpar film. But when the opening sequence is a perfect set for the rest of the movie and then the following acts spike the ball into the net where it falls harmlessly to the hardwood floor, it leaves you wondering what could have been. The pieces were there to make it a strong action film, but ultimately the talent was wasted.
There are some good moments here and there. The action is for the most part solid and that opening scene quickly gets you on board with the film. But American Assassin slowly kills any chance of you re-watching this movie as it introduces bland character after bland character until the movie ends with the characters in the same places they started the film.
I’ll rank American Assassin as Eddie Lacy. Although he jumped out of the gates strong, earning Offensive Rookie of the Year honors and a Pro Bowl selection in 2013 to build the expectations of Packer fans and fantasy owners, he has regressed ever since.