Review: American Assassin

The stupidity level’s set to nuclear in aborted launch of Bond/Bourne knock-off. Dylan O’Brien disappoints in the grunting hero stakes.

Long before the inexorable endurance test that is director Michael Kill the Messenger Cuesta’s utterly unoriginal, entirely predictable and thoroughly tedious American Assassin winds its way to its laugh-out-loud disappearing disaster finale – with shadows of Nolan’s bat – this poorly conceived tent-pole has sunk in the mire without trace.

The world does not need another muddied version of the Bond/Bourne/Reacher franchises, and even if it did, this aborted attempt at foisting late author Vince Flynn’s knock-off hero Mitch Rapp on audiences isn’t going to float.

Starring The Maze Runner’s Dylan O’Brien, he shows none of the plucky charm he demonstrated in that teen dystopia series, instead delivering a charisma-deficient, po-faced turn in the face of brainless plotting as the American assassin in question.

This is a film so far off the radar when it comes to logic we’re supposed to buy that a grieving young man who witnesses the horrific murder of his fiancé in the opening scene’s beachside terrorist attack (the film’s solitary moment of tension) is able to infiltrate the ISIS-like cell responsible, where the CIA, with all of their vast resources, cannot. Because vengeance – a recurring theme.

Rapp’s all-consuming mission sees him recruited by a criminally underutilised Sanaa Lathan, the only spark of life in the film, as CIA deputy director Irene Kennedy (Poirot star David Suchet is even more squandered as her boss). Amidst the usual claptrap about “off the charts” physical and psychological prowess, she punts Rapp into a hilariously X-Men danger room training camp with serious Hunger Games, run by a cruise control Michael Keaton as cranky Cold War vet and Navy SEAL Stan Hurley. Demonstrating nowhere near the level of engagement as his recent villainous turn in Spider-Man: Homecoming, even he can’t save the testosterone-overdose ridiculousness of a fingernail-removing torture scene.

That deliriously daft moment is one of many that suggest a much more fun, Taken-style melodrama movie gurgling somewhere in the colonic region of this aggravating endeavour, but nope. From the plodding origin story to the nuclear-level finale, it’s a poker-faced mope-fest in spite of the moronic levels of stupidity demonstrated by the phalanx of writers involved in adapting this rot. There may as well be an addendum in the end credits that no brain cells were harmed in the making of this movie, because there’s scant evidence any were involved in it conception in the first place.

Only intermittently aware of the glaring logic fails written into the script, botched attempts at course correction merely exacerbate the most egregious examples. Take, for instance, the case of a mobster’s goon who, upon having his phone stolen immediately before a vital meeting, decides not to mention it. That Rapp has to painfully posit why this might be the case is excruciating.

There’s not a beat in this move that isn’t easily predicted long before it’s leadenly signposted, from the beef of John Carter-star Taylor Kitsch’s villain (a better choice to star here) to a painfully obvious and uninteresting betrayal that makes scant impact on the plot. At every possible moment Cuesta avoids the opportunity to play with Rapp’s inherent macho silliness, a relic of another time without even the modicum of reflection or wisecracking debonair allowed Craig’s Bond.

Devoid of humour, it’s also throttled on the action and adventure fronts. Fights are rendered uninteresting by dint of the cheating shaky cam quick-cut school of minimum weight punching and guffaw-making CGI blood spurts. It is quite spectacular that a globe-hopping film that takes in, among its many destinations, Ibiza, Istanbul and Rome, never feels like it left the soundstage.

Don’t look to teammates Annika (Shiva Negar) of the high heels for all occasions or Victor (Scott Adkins) the whatever to add depth. There’s none to be had here, with O’Brien’s woefully miscast cipher Rapp the least interesting of all. Generic and 80s racist in its goodies versus baddies boredom, American Assassin will most likely be executed on arrival.

Stephen A Russell @SARussellwords