There are sixteen books in the Mitch Rapp series, upon which this film is based. Sixteen. That's a lot of pages. A lot of stories to be told. I've never read them, nor did I know there was even a sequel to the original book I keep seeing all over my local Target, but if a book series has lasted that long, surely they're doing something right. Surely, out of the thousands of trees those books have killed, there's a solid story somewhere. Alas, if there is, it fails to find its way to the big screen. Whatever it was that was translated into American Assassin, the title of the eleventh book released but the first chronologically, it sure as hell doesn't do the popularity of the book justice. Let's just hope those other fifteen books remain out of Hollywood's hands. James Bond, this is not.
It needs to be said that the casting in this movie is, without a doubt, its strongest aspect. Of all the primary roles, there's no weak link. Dylan O'Brian brings a lot of sympathy and emotional depth to his character, especially during an intense and unrelenting opening shootout, and he's matched perfectly with Michael Keaton (who I'll get more into in just a moment). Even the occasionally under appreciated/occasionally dreadful Taylor Kitsch gives a solid performance here. None of them are at any fault. They're out here doing their best, attempting to get a new franchise off the ground while yelling viciously into each other's ears. It's just the rest of the film that's complete garbage.
Heck, even the assassin subplot is dropped. Yes, that's the right. This film is titled American ASSASSIN, and yet there's very little assassinating. There's more spying, taking photos and talking to different dudes in suits than there is action. Granted, the assassin training montage does have some fun moments while it lasts, but it all skims past so fast with virtually no character development whatsoever. Tension and rivalry is constantly set up between Mitch and his fellow trainees, but the supporting characters aren't even given a name. A brief scene in augmented reality shows potential for what this film could've been, but it then decides to spend a quarter of its runtime torturing Michael Keaton's character instead.
Worst of all, you just don't care for the characters either, making the 111-minute runtime feel never-ending. Michael Keaton plays a dick for the sake of being a dick. You're meant to hate him, but ultimately learn to love him, yet everyone just forgives him for the sake of forgiving him. It's never earned. He doesn't have an arc, there's just one forced onto him. And for the sake of not spoiling the movie, I won't point out this second character's name, but they were severely underdeveloped in all the worst ways. They go from the good side to the bad side to maybe the good side again but also definitely the bad side, forced to team up with Mitch for a showdown that feels like it should be emotional but certainly is not. Their character infuriated me.
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