In recent memory action films have changed. Gone are the days of the wise-cracking heroes like John McClane or even Arnie quipping their way through a hail of bullets dispatching bad guys. It would be easy to blame Liam Neeson being Taken into the action genre but in truth it probably harks back to Matt Damon’s Jason Bourne. American Assassin certainly has aspirations to be something akin to Bourne. It’s based on a book, stars a young, up and coming actor and, on paper, looks to have a certain teenage boy corner of the market sewn up thanks to a revenge orientated trailer of guns and bloodshed.
Alas, the trailer sell-in is as good as it gets. And that isn’t saying very much. Following the murder of his fiance, Mitch Rapp (Dylan O’Brien) forms an unhealthy fixation on ridding the world of Muslim extremists. Fair enough, although the people who killed his love were not obviously Muslim from what we see on camera. Recruited into a black ops group led by Michael Keaton’s wonderfully cliched, growling commander, Rapp sets out to stop a bomb which is likely being crafted by Keaton’s former protege Ghost (Taylor Kitsch).
Look, when the best thing you can say about a film is, “oh, it’s cool someone finally thought to set an action scene in an IKEA”, you’re probably on a hiding to nothing. There is nothing in American Assassin, aside from a Swedish furniture store, that feels original. It lacks the visceral energy and emotional investment of Bourne and instead opts for the CGI blood spattering of Taken.
The story plods along from set piece to set piece while O’Brien pouts, shouts and broods over the fact he’s not allowed to be killing more Muslims. John Wick’s brand of gun-porn is only borderline acceptable thanks to its tongue almost being in its cheek, here the weapon glorification is painful.
There is a moment towards the end when Keaton’s character is electrocuted and he goes cross-eyed. It perfectly captures the sentiment of the film. So confused it doesn’t know which way to look, so confused it cannot get a simple torture scene right, to such an extent that Keaton is actually pointing this out as it happens.
This American Assassin couldn’t hit the bullseye with a shotgun at close range. This is a film designed to occupy Call Of Duty fans, and even they might find themselves bored.