‘American Assassin,’ an exciting violent spy thriller

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Move over John Wick, there’s a new ruthless avenger in town. The much younger Mitch Rapp is brutal, compelling and filled with more rage than our community Facebook pages. If you remember, the bad guys shot John Wick’s dog, but these evil-doers take out Mitch’s fiancé, game on! The charismatic Dylan O’Brien from the “Maze Runner” series has earned his stripes and is ready to star in this globe trotting action-thriller.

Based on the wildly popular counter-terrorism series by Vince Flynn, each of the fifteen volumes has been on the New York Times bestseller list. As this origin story could be just the start of a long running movie franchise, established actors, such as Gerard Butler and Colin Farrell were passed over for the younger O’Brien.

Academy Award nominee Michael Keaton, who is magnificent as Mitch’s stern and harsh CIA “drill sergeant,” leads the strong and talented supporting cast. Director Michael Cuesta (“Homeland Security”) delivers a slightly better than average script interspersed with stunning, impassioned and brutal action sequences.

Eighteen months after Mitch’s fiancé is gunned down in a terrorist attack, he is prepared for retribution. Rather than taking an anger management class, he trains in mixed martial arts and joins a terrorist cell. He tells their leader, “Alla wills that I join the struggle wherever it is.” He plans to get close enough to take out those responsible for his loss.

Unfortunately, the CIA beats him to it but recruits Mitch for their elite black operations. Driven by rage, Mitch states, “They deserve to die in the worst way possible.” Sent to a black ops boot camp, led by veteran Stan Hurley (Keaton), Mitch excels but doesn’t seem to play well with others.

Stan tells Director Kennedy (Sanaa Lathan), “I don’t like his psych profile. He’s a Section 8 with an ax to grind.”

Nevertheless, Kennedy says, “I think he’s ready.” Stan replies, “I don’t, but he will be.” Together, Mitch and Stan discover a pattern in the violence that leads them to a joint mission to stop a mysterious operative, called “Ghost” (Taylor Kitch). Ghost is brokering a deal between Iran and Russia with the intent of starting a war in the Middle East.

Interesting that Kitch was a rising star until he flopped in two disappointing blockbusters, “John Carter” and “Battleship.” At 25, O’Brien is now at the top. However he is focused, credible and likeable. The supporting cast is brilliant, but as a lone wolf and stone cold killer, O’Brien carries enough gravitas for the story to be suspenseful and convincing.

Revenge against terrorists is a topic we can all root for today. While many of our current heroes are filled with wit, humor or sarcasm, Mitch bares only his game face and is obsessed solely with maiming and killing the enemy. The level of intensity is as constant as the level of mayhem, which keeps the audience on the edge of their seats.

The fight scenes are clever, well choreographed and thankfully not overly chopped and edited. There are chases with cars, boats, dogs and helicopters. There are knife fights, shoot-outs and explosions. If this is what you came for, you’ll not be disappointed by the action sequences. At one point, Mitch seems to soften with his partner Annika (Iranian born Shiva Negar), until a sense of duty rudely interrupts their relationship.

“American Assassin” is 111 minutes and rated MPAA for strong violence, torture, language and nudity. This is a seriously violent movie that packs a punch and carries a high body count. The scenes are intense, brutal and some are simply terrifying. However, this “John Wick Jr.” can serve effectively as a guilty pleasure for some.

It’s interesting that not many like to work with renegades, but idolize them in movies.

This hunky new star and this series could be around for a long time, especially with the banter and mentor/student “chemistry” between Keaton and O’Brien. This YA (young adult) world is new to some of us. Assassins are supposed to have middle names.

Ron’s Rating: B+   
Leigh’s Rating: C

 

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Ron & Leigh Martel