When movie studio executives want to pander to what they perceive female audiences want, they churn out soulless, offensive romantic comedies – recent examples, of course, include the abysmal Home Again and The Layover. However, when their goal is to fill theater seats with men, they cram their movies full of tasteless guns and explosions, which is arguably equally disgusting. Weaving a tapestry of overused action thriller scenarios without even the courtesy of a slight variation, American Assassin is forgettable, even by the standards of the genre.
After his betrothed falls victim to a terrorist plot just seconds after accepting his marriage proposal, Mitch Rapp (The Maze Runner’s Dylan O’Brien, looking like a young Mark Wahlberg) vows to infiltrate the group of religious extremists who carried out the attack and exact his revenge on their leader. Naturally, this alerts the U.S. government to his scheme, and for some reason they see fit to recruit him for a top secret military training program headed by Stan Hurley (played with refreshing glee by Michael Keaton). Soon, Rapp and company are making their way across the globe to kill faceless goons in the name of America.
American Assassin is an exceptionally indistinguishable entry into a genre that is already overflowing with movies molded from the same cookie cutter. Every detail feels distractingly manufactured, with the narrative structure is comprised entirely of a series of plot beats and clichéd lines of dialogue. There are a handful of uninteresting action set pieces that ultimately wind up with a climax revolving around our heroes having to dispose of a live bomb with a ticking timer attached to it. You don’t have to put much thought into constructing an action movie, but there should at least be some.
Above all, this movie was supposed to be entertaining. People don’t go into this type of film in the hopes of unlocking some ethical truth about humanity. They just want to see buildings explode. Unfortunately, American Assassin is a bit of a snoozer. While there are a handful of shootouts and a brief yet fetishistic fascination with torture, there really isn’t much adrenaline pumping through this movie’s veins. It has all of the witlessness of the Fast and Furious franchise with absolutely none of the exhilaration. It’s almost as if it was constructed solely for the purpose of filling a slot in the queue of indiscernible movies on an airplane.
The few shimmering moments of hope in the movie all rest on the charmingly capable shoulders of Michael Keaton. He is clearly having a blast with the role, and it is this inspired energy that is able to breathe life into stale lines of dialogue that have no business being even the slightest bit amusing. There are a scattering of intentional laughs throughout the film’s nearly two-hour runtime, and Keaton is responsible for every single one of them. Perhaps if the other performers were on his wavelength, the movie could have been salvaged through sheer campy charisma.
A remarkably unremarkable movie, American Assassin is sure to have viewers everywhere checking their watches and thinking about all the tasks they have to complete when they leave the theater. It’s ridiculously over the top, but never in a way that is even remotely fun. Mitch Rapp is apparently a beloved paperback superstar, but his dull big screen debut never sees him evolve into anything other than a mopey punk with a gun.