When Matt Damon took on the role of Robert Ludlum’s titular hero Jason Bourne way back in 2002, it created a shift in the action-spy genre that radically changed audience expectations. Thus, when a movie based on a book from popular action/thriller author Stephen Flynn was released, a certain level of balls-to-the-wall audacity was expected. Unfortunately, what we got was something more in the lines of an old Jean Claude Van Damme movie rather than a Bourne film, or even an Expendable, for that matter.
The movie has your standard revenge-driven hero in the form of Mitch Rapp (Dylan O’Brien), who had his life thrown into turmoil when his fiancée is killed by random terrorists. Who exactly these particular terrorists are is not important —they are just the fuel needed to create a “badass” action hero. And just how badass is Mitch Rapp? Well in the meager eight months from the time his fiancée was killed to the present, he manages to become a Mixed Martial Arts fighter, turns himself into a man proficient in small arms, and he also manages to troll Islamic terrorists online in the hopes of finding those responsible for ruining his life. This had me wondering what in the hell was Mitch before the fateful day of his fiancée’s death? All we learn is that after her death he lost interest in school and dropped out, but unless that school was a Hogwarts for trained killers, I call his sudden abilities bullshit.
When his sting to catch and kill the terrorists responsible for his fiancée’s death is interrupted by a U.S. Special Forces team, Rapp finds himself in C.I.A custody where he is subjected to thirty days of intense debriefing; somehow, this results in him being offered a job with the agency. Is that how the C.I.A works? Does the Agency often recruit random vigilantes obsessed with avenging the death of a loved one? In fact, ex-Navy Seal Stan Hurley (Michael Keaton) thinks the kid is a walking Section Eight, and wants no part of him, but he is overruled by C.I.A Deputy Director Irene Kennedy (Sanaa Lathan), who wants Rapp to be part of a black operations unit called Orion: an off-the-books squad who, if caught, would be disavowed by the government—a sort of Suicide Squad, if you will.
Despite Hurley’s repeated objections — that the viewer can’t help but agree with — Kennedy orders that Rapp be trained for the team. And what exactly makes this guy so special? Well according to her, he has, “Tested through the roof,” and “Might be the best I’ve ever seen.” Really, a guy with no military background or professional training is the best she has ever seen? I’m sure that would come as a shock to the hundreds of men and women belonging to the Navy Seals, Army Rangers or any other branch of the military. Or maybe she just doesn’t get out much. Regardless of logic — or plain old common sense, for that matter — it is apparently Rapp’s “non-boot camp look” that is just what they need for these covert operations. So Rapp is whisked off to a cabin in the woods, where he is trained alongside a group of other recruits by the aforementioned Hurley, a man who repeatedly states that Rapp is an emotional powder keg and is unable to separate his emotions from the job at hand. Hurley may be an idiotic hothead, but Kennedy thinks that this is just what the doctor ordered, even after Hurley points out the kid can’t obey a simple order.
Because this is a movie, Rapp’s ” ignoring orders” pays off — instead of realistically getting him and his teammates killed — and shows us just how much of a true badass he really is. Of course, he isn’t the only rule-breaking badass this movie has to offer. Enter the villain. The Orion team finds themselves hunting down a mercenary who goes by the codename Ghost (Taylor Kitsch), who apparently plans to build a nuclear bomb for the Iranians. Anybody want to lay down bets that this Ghost has a troubled history with Hurley? What, no takers?
American Assassin isn’t a terrible action film — there are a few decent stunt scenes — but it is an overly cliché one, and aside from Keaton’s Hurley, none of the characters on display were all that interesting. The plot provides nothing that we haven’t seen in countless other films of its kind, and it is certainly no more original than what you could find on an episode of Scorpion. I will give the film credit for providing action scenes that were well choreographed, and it gets bonus points for avoiding the shaky-cam that plagued the Bourne movies, but I didn’t really give a shit about Rapp or his problems, so this made those moments less than engaging.
The movie was made with a rather small budget, so what box office it achieved makes the possibility for a sequel more probable. This also means there is a chance we could see more books from the series being made, but in my opinion, they’d be better off turning the character of Mitch Rapp into a television hero and recasting him with someone with at least a modicum of screen charisma. If you catch this movie while flipping through channels, it wouldn’t be the worst way to kill two hours, but certainly don’t go out of your way to see this thing.
• We repeatedly see Hurley dry firing his gun, which any professional would know is not conducive to keeping your weapon in perfect working order.
• A mole is discovered among the team members but whose revelation is completely undone mere moments later.
• The villainous Ghost borrows his backstory from Javier Bardem’s character in Skyfall.
• For a movie called “American Assassin” it surprisingly has nothing to do with assassinations of any kind.