American Assassin is a spectacularly dumb movie. There’s no reason to need to dress it up as anything more, but sadly, it is the kind of dumb that only barely crosses into “so dumb it’s fun, but for dads” territory of something like Jack Reacher. It also doesn’t help that this is clearly intended to start a franchise, and the third act completely outpaces the film’s budget. But we’ll get there. This review is going to be spoiler heavy, because American Assassin is the kind of movie where the only things that should make you want to sit through it is because of how insane it manages to be.
We open with Typical Dudebro, aka Mitch Rapp* (Dylan O’Brien) on the beach proposing to his girlfriend. We know he’s a Dudebro because he is filming the entire thing using the selfie cam on his phone and because his chest has a soul patch. Then terrorists attack the beach, killing his fiancée. We cut to months later, and Dudebro has turned himself into a one man terrorist hunter. He’s getting kicked out of MMA gyms and gun ranges because he’s too hardcore. He’s throwing knives, boxing, and chatting with terrorists online all night.
But for no discernible reason, the CIA Deputy Director Irene Kennedy (Sanaa Lathan) wants him to join and kill terrorists for them instead of being a vigilante or whatever. They recruit Dudebro and send him to train under Stan Hurley (Michael Keaton), the team leader of Orion, which is an elite black ops hit squad. Finally Dudebro is in a place that seems hardcore enough for him. There’s no rescues, and agents who are captured are recommended to kill themselves first. But even this isn’t hardcore enough for Dudebro, and he has a problem with orders. And for him, it’s personal, which violates Hurley’s number one rule, but no one else seems to care.
Finally, after training exercises using augmented reality and a replica of an Ikea, Dudebro is taken on his first mission. It obviously goes horribly awry, and he disobeys orders to try and complete the mission on his own. This puts him in the path of “Ghost” (Taylor Kitsch), an ex-Orion member gone rogue. Oh, and we learn that Ghost has weapons grade uranium, and he needs a Detonator and a Physicist to complete a nuclear weapon (it feels like Carmen Sandiego, where you had to recover the loot and get the warrant before arresting the thief). But here’s where things start to get a little nuts.
Dudebro’s recklessness gets Keaton’s character captured by Ghost. The following makes American Assassin the only film ever made where a torture scene is the best scene in the movie. As Ghost is putting Keaton’s arm in a vice, his other arm in a chain hanging from the ceiling, and his feet in a cooler of water, Keaton is critiquing Ghost’s performance as torturer. He informs him of his mistakes when Ghost asks the question the wrong way, as he removes one of Keaton’s fingernails. “I’VE GOT NINE MORE!” Keaton shouts. It’s aggressively badass, and Keaton’s face is bright red as he screams at Kitsch. It’s absolutely amazing.
And the final lesson? Don’t get too close. Keaton bites Ghost’s ear off, chews it up, and spits it back in his face. At this point, I was ready to applaud. Sadly, Keaton is rescued, and the movie gets worse. When the helicopter arrives to pick him up is where I become more concerned that this very stupid movie was going to try to go for a scale that wasn’t necessary or feasible within its budget. The helicopter hovers over a housing project in Rome, and it looks like it was copy/pasted from a Playstation 3 game onto a shot of a real location. It looks bad.
After that, Dudebro and “Ghost” fight on a boat while it heads toward a Navy fleet out on maneuvers. Eventually the bomb explodes underwater. Yeah, American Assassin has a nuclear explosion as its denouement. The digital water, the digital navy ships, everything looks so clearly digital it is impossible to ignore. Afterwards, Irene calls the ship captain to see if they are okay and offers prayers. I guess she didn’t do it before because she assumed that they were goners. And I guess the beaches and fishies are all completely irradiated? No one ever bothers to explain. Later on, we see Rapp on his next mission as we smash cut to credits.
That’s the quick version, and everything about it just reminded me why I love Michael Bay so much. While his action films are often derided as stupid, Bay is a supremely talented filmmaker. This film so desperately wants to be The Rock, but it doesn’t have even the slightest idea of how to shoot action, create tension within a scene, or a connection between any of the characters and the audience.
But hey, I got to see Michael Keaton chew an ear.
American Assassin opens in Philly theaters today.
*I seriously thought the other characters nicknamed Dudebro “Rat” because if the film ever gives us his full name, I missed it.
Author: Ryan Silberstein
Ryan spends his days at a company named one of the best to work for in the Philadelphia area, and his nights
as a mysterious caped vigilante saving his city from the disease that is crime watching movies. He lives on a diet consisting of film, comic books, experimental beer, black coffee, and those big metal historical markers around town. Follow him on Twitter and Letterboxd.