From the start, there’s something not quite right about the new spy thriller American Assassin.
Vacationing at a Spanish beachside resort with his girlfriend Katrina (Charlotte Vega), the happiest day in the life of Mitch Rapp (Dylan O'Brien, The Maze Runner) almost comedically quickly switches gears as Islamic extremist gunmen storm the waterfront.
As bystanders are taken out through copious head and body shots, Mitch is understandably concerned but many of his fellow vacationers are alarmingly calm, traipsing past the pools and bars as if merely wanting to get a good shaded chair.
The rest of the film follows this mishmash vibe, tracking Mitch as he seeks revenge on the terrorist cell, activity that’s picked up by the CIA’s Irene Kennedy (Sanaa Lathan), who brings him in as a potential elite recruit.
Under the direction of Michael Cuesta (the comparably uneven Kill the Messenger), the four-scribe adaptation of Vince Flynn’s popular novel is generally well made and exciting thanks to steady camerawork, active editing and a spine-tingling score from Steven Price (Baby Driver).
American Assassin receives an additional boost with the addition of Michael Keaton as Best of the Best trainer Stan Hurley. Channeling his darker elements from Birdman, The Founder and Spider-Man: Homecoming, Keaton is a no-nonsense marvel who steals every scene and occasionally inspires his costars to try a little harder.
But it's the weaving in of "hey, isn't he supposed to be dead" baddie Ghost (Taylor Kitsch) that the film noticeably struggles. Lame double crosses and other ill-timed narrative shifts that steam from Hurley's former recruit suggest too many screenwriters and not enough editors, while action sequences are cheapened by shoddy visuals and It-level bad special effects — none worse than when Mitch does battle in a luxurious Istanbul high-rise against a distractingly fake cityscape.
Toss in a rote torture scene and Ghost following the Bond villain playbook to predictably hazardous ends and what should be a gripping finale instead loses nearly all its steam.
With 15 other Rapp novels and American Assassin close to breaking even, this may not be the last we've seen of our hero. However, unless a new creative team takes over his next mission, it’s best to wait and see how John Krasinski fares as the new Jack Ryan on Amazon than go another round with this lackluster crew.
Grade: C-plus. Rated R. Now playing at AMC Classic, Biltmore Grande and Carolina Cinemark
(Photo: CBS Films/Lionsgate)