American Assassin - B-
Rated R, 111 minutes
The familiar yet entertaining spy drama "American Assassin," based on the best selling novel of the same name by the late Vince Flynn, pulls few surprises and mostly comes across as a junior-grade Jason Bourne. Amidst enough plot holes that'd make Bourne himself shudder, the film still manages to flow with enough action, violence and energy to keep most audiences engaged.
The story follows the rise of Mitch Rapp ("The Maze Runner's" Dylan O'Brien) a CIA black ops recruit under the instruction of Cold War veteran Stan Hurley (Michael Keaton). The pair is then enlisted by CIA Deputy Director Irene Kennedy ("The Best Man's" Sanaa Lathan) to investigate a wave of apparently random attacks on both military and civilian targets. Together the three discover a pattern in the violence leading them to a joint mission with a lethal Turkish agent (Shiva Negar) to stop a mysterious operative ("Savages'" Taylor Kitsch) intent on starting a World War in the Middle East.
The simplistic thriller "American Assassin" is directed by Michael Cuesta ("Kill the Messenger," TV's "Homeland") and co-written by "Blood Diamond's" Edward Zwick, along with Marshall Herskovitz, Michael Finch and Stephen Schiff, the film is based on Flynn's novel, though much of it, unsurprisingly, has been changed for the big screen, considerably amping up the violence and action. On that note, it lacks the edginess and smarts of Bourne, but it does what it sets out to do: kick a lot of tail and save the planet.
Playing CIA operative and revenge-seeker Mitch Rapp is "The Maze Runner's" and "Teen Wolf" O'Brien, who makes for a seemingly leaner, younger and blander Rapp, but he handles the fight scenes well enough that can forgive him for a Boston accent that clearly comes and goes. Kitsch is even a blander, underwritten villain, a lunatic rogue operative out to destroy the world, while Lathan manages a few good scenes as a CIA chief who somehow (we don't know why, really) believes in Rapp.
"American Assassin" would be forgettable without the memorable help of "Spider-Man: Homecoming's" Keaton, whose squirrely presence here allows him to steal the film as Rapp's CIA instructor, Hurley. Keaton gets in the best lines and the best scenes, especially in one gruesome torture scene in which he manages to bite back, emerging with another character's ear ("never get too close" he says).
Outside of the action and violence, the story is less successful: the villain's motives are sketchy, and attempts to provide some backstory for Rapp fall a little flat. The earlier chapters work decently as a lean, tight thriller, with some nice chase and action scenes, though it unfortunately gives way to a preposterously over-the-top finale.
"American Assassin" is a standard-issue, serviceable spy thriller worth seeing for the action and another charming turn from Keaton.