Mitch Rapp (Dylan O’Brien) is just a normal guy until his world is turned upside down when terrorists storm a beach he’s on, shooting him and kill his fiancée. After that he becomes obsessed with hunting down the bad guys and making them pay. Initially he tries to do this by himself, until he’s pulled into a CIA programme and trained by Stan Hurley (Michael Keaton) to be able to go into the field and take the terrorists down.
He gets pulled into something deeper and potentially even deadly when an investigation into some seemingly random attacks leads them to a mysterious operative. Even worse, that operative may have a nuclear bomb.
Designed as the start of a franchise featuring Vince Flynn’s popular counter-terrorism agent, American Assassin didn’t exactly set the box office on fire, so it’s unlikely we’ll see another Rapp film anytime soon. In some respects it’s a shame, as Teen Wolf and Maze Runner Dylan O’Brien proves he’s got some really good action chops, and there’s the potential for a really fun action romp. With more thought about tone and story, it could have been the start of something great, rather than a bit of a dud.
The problem is that it is a very silly film that takes itself far too seriously. The plot is incredibly over the top and at time defies logic. In fact, if this was the 1980s you could easily imagine Arnold Schwarzenegger playing Rapp (except the bad guys would have been Russians instead of random Middle Eastern looking people). There’s nothing wrong with that, as these sorts of preposterous plots and OTT machismo can make for fun, entertaining movies. However, American Assassin often comes across as if it thinks it’s has something serious to say about terrorism and world politics, and as if it’s showing us something that’s even vaguely like the real world.
When it turns out that the whole thing is down to the fact the CIA ought to invest more in psychiatrists, there is no doubt that it’s all a bit daft, and if it had just accepted that it could have been fine. Poor old Taylor Kitsch is left being the big baddie and struggling not to make him seem both dumb and rather preposterous in a film that wants us to think of him as more than just a cut-price Bond villain. It’s not just him though, as the delusions that it is more Zero Dark Thirty than Mission: Impossible are ultimately American Assassin’s undoing.
The seriousness also leaves a bad taste in the mouth at times, particularly when it gets a little too close for comfort to real terrorist atrocities and appears to be mining them for entertainment. Similarly, if the film were to have a thesis underlying it, it would be that all men have the maturity of a four-year-old and that all problems can be solved by killing people, which I’m sure isn’t what it was hoping to suggest.
On the plus side, the action is good, Michael Keaton has fun in a scenery-chewing kind of way, and those who like a bit of violence will probably enjoy it. However, for most, it’ll be a bit of an imbalanced mess and very quickly forgotten.
Overall Verdict: Dylan O’Brien is good, but the movie around him is daft popcorn action that treats itself like a serious drama, and it doesn’t quite pull it off.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac
‘Target Acquired: Creating an American Assassin’ Featurette
‘Finding Mitch Rapp: Dylan O’Brien’ Featurette
‘Transfer of Power: Hurley & Ghost’ Featurette
‘Weaponized: Training & Stunts’ Featurette
‘In The Field: Locations’ Featurette
Alamo Drafthouse Q&A