I was actually looking forward to American Assassin. Not because I’m a fan of the books or anything, but because the trailers promised me dumb, action schlock. And boy, was I ready to sign up. One moment in particular spoke volumes to me. Gruff CIA instructor Michael Keaton spins around a laptop, revealing footage of recruit Dylan O’Brien’s deceased, bikini-clad girlfriend, and barks out, “Never let it get personal!” It seemed like such a perfectly terrible moment and raised some interesting questions. Mostly, why does Michael Keaton have bikini footage of this woman? That scene was still pretty great-in-a-terrible-way in the movie; it ends with Keaton choking O’Brien with the laptop’s power cord and then clearing him to go on his first mission. But it also illustrates American Assassin’s defining characteristic: Everything is dumb, and nothing makes logical sense.
The film follows Mitch Rapp (O’Brien) who devotes his life to personally hunting terrorists after his girlfriend is killed in a terror attack in Spain. His activity eventually catches the interest of the CIA, and Rapp is recruited for an elite unit codenamed Orion, which is headed by Stan Hurley (Keaton). Hurley trains Rapp with everything from knife fights in the woods to elaborate IKEA-inspired set pieces (because when is IKEA not relevant to terrorism?). Soon nuclear grade material is stolen, and it becomes clear that someone is building a bomb. The someone is revealed to be a former Orion operative (Taylor Kitsch) thought to have been killed in action. He’s a got a grudge against Hurley (oh no, that makes things personal!), and you can probably guess who’s going to stop him.
To return to the stupid, let’s dissect that bikini-footage moment. Hurley is testing Rapp by showing him the footage, and Rapp fails. He loses his shit over the dead girlfriend and attacks Hurley, leading to the power cord choking. If it’s important for an operative to not let it get personal, then wow is Rapp not your man. This isn’t even the first time in his training Rapp does something really stupid when Hurley tests his level headedness. Yet, he is still one of two recruits selected to stop the nuclear bomb from getting made. Just spectacular decision making. But if you think he was placed on the team too hastily, don’t worry because he’ll also get pulled off for doing literally nothing wrong later.
I’m not sure bikini-footage is even the best way to illustrate how supremely dumb this movie is. It absolutely throws real world logic out the window and even taught me that atomic bombs can create an implosion before exploding outward because it looks cooler. Unfortunately, the stupidity is all American Assassin has to keep it from being a boring, generic spy thriller.
The action is ho-hum, the performances are serviceable but not memorable, the plot is paint by numbers and the characters are thinly drawn. Rapp is clearly supposed to be a Jason Bourne or Jack Reacher. He’s the best damn operative anyone’s ever seen. He may have trouble with authority and a penchant for going rogue, but damn it, he gets results. The film, however, really doesn’t tell us anything about him. I have no clue why he’s able to do what he does; he goes from regular guy to infiltrating terror cells in less than two years. There’s a brief mention that he was in graduate school before his girlfriend dies, and that his parents died in a car crash. I guess those are the hallmarks of a super spy/assassin.
If you can’t laugh at how stupid American Assassin is, it’s not going to do anything for you. It may have given me what I was looking for, but I was looking for something terrible.
Cake Rating: Like a whole sheet cake from the grocery store; cheap but high volume. But don’t let them personalize it. Never let things get personal!