American Assassin: Movie Man Jackson

Loss can drive a person to low depths…or amazing heights, depending on the point of view. Twenty-three-year-old Mitch Rapp (Dylan O’Brien) has experienced a lot of it during his years, losing his parents in an accident at fourteen, and his fiancée literally minutes after proposing at the hands of a terrorist attack. This drives Mitch to seek undercover revenge on not just the terrorists who killed his woman, but all sleeper cells.

Being a terrorist vigilante attracts the attention of the CIA and its director Irene Kennedy (Sanaa Lathan). Most in the organization don’t trust Mitch’s psyche, but Irene believes he can do much good with some reigning in, so she ships him off to learn under the tutelage of Cold War vet Stan Hurley (Michael Keaton). They need someone who can handle himself as a plan to build a nuclear weapon capable of starting and ending a war begins to manifest. It leads them to “Ghost” (Taylor Kitsch), an individual who has deep history with high ranking members of the CIA.

American Assassin has a title befitting of a movie made in the 1990’s. Visualize it with an older cast. Steven Seagal starring as the guy taking on some of the worst the world has to offer. Jill Hennessy as the CIA director. Ted Levine as the recruit gone rogue. American Assassin is essentially a 1990’s action movie, but devoid of the adrenaline and overall fun factor some of those films carried.

Adapted from a Vince Flynn book in the Mitch Rapp series, American Assassin starts off solidly enough, with director Michael Cuesta (Kill the Messenger) staging the uncomfortable opening and building enough sympathy for the lead character. Problem is, after this, little to no additional depths are explored towards the lead or any of the characters for that matter. This wouldn’t have been much of a gripe if American Assassin went all in on being bombastic from the get-go, but the approach taken is rather grounded and certainly heavy for a spy movie at least early on, harboring potential for deeper characterization and themes. There’s nothing wrong with that (I kind of prefer it, personally in a world of Bonds and Kingsmen which are fun in their own right), just commit to it.

Perhaps it’s the story of the novel which doesn’t translate greatly to the silver screen. At some undetermined point in the runtime, the approach goes from mature/semi-realistic to lowest common denominator/over-the-top. Sure, there are some solid (if unspectacular) action sequences that don’t shy away from brutality and blood, but they’re barely tied together by a dull story and boring dialogue that shoots blanks in attempting to suck the viewer in.

What’s more disappointing is that there’s no reveal or intriguing twist that jolts life into the proceedings, what’s there is there. By the final act, Cuesta and company seem to know this, throwing every cliché in the genre at the wall in an attempt to leave American Assassin on a fun note. All that’s left behind is some poor CGI.

The cast tasked with raising this story from the book pages to the big screen don’t really get the opportunity to elevate anything. Most characters are inconsequential, or so stock and generic, be it the deputy director played by Latham (seemingly only existing for exposition) or the villain played with Kitsch who has an issue with a person from his past. On a brighter note, at least Dylan O’Brien looks recovered from his Maze Runner accident. He’s a guy who’s got talent and a little charisma, but like a game manager, he can only be great if the elements around him are stable. And of course there’s Michael Keaton. While this is the bottom of the barrel in regards to his recent films of late, his presence and veteran guile alone can make up for a few film deficiencies.

American Assassin ends with the possibility of going on more missions with the uber-skilled Mitch Rapp. But if one is any indicator of what the future holds with these movies, Mr. Rapp’s first foray into counter-terrorism should be his last.

C-

Photo credits go to cdanews.com, areyouscreening.com, and slashfilm.com.

For additional detailed thoughts on films both small and large, games, and the key moments that comprise each, check out ThatMomentIn.com

Follow the Movie Man @MovieManJackson

Advertisements

The Maze Runner: Movie Man Jackson

themazerunnerposter

“Who knows where this might lead us.”

Most people who wake up with absolutely no memory of anything wake up anywhere but an all-boys community. Yet, that is what happens to Thomas (Dylan O’Brien), in The Maze Runner. He is the latest boy to be dropped into this mysterious place called The Glade, a place where these boys have learned to make their own society and fill specific roles for the betterment of it.

Like Thomas, all have been dropped into this world in the exact same manner, but so many years have passed by and this place is accepted as home. The secret to escape could lie in the form of a monolithic maze, to which little is known as to what exist when in those walls. Societal “runners” are the only people to truly know, but none have survived to tell others about what is in there. If Thomas wants to get out, becoming a runner is a good place to start.

chuck

Praise goes to director Wes Ball for at least bringing some freshness to the young adult movie genre in The Maze Runner, taken of course from the novel with the same name. It is a movie where, taken as a whole, is probably better than even the most harshest of YA movie genre haters would have believed. Even with the problems, which manifest more as the runtime goes on.

Right from the jump, a short but attention-grabbing opening puts one right into the film’s world. Just like Thomas who is trying to piece together what exactly is going on, we too as the audience are doing the same. Everything is shrouded in mystery, with enough but not too much information given that does push along the story. The first 30 -45 minutes exist and deliver as a very hooking, Lord-of-the-Flies-ish setup.

It can be compared to The Hunger Games, sure, but without the battle royal aspect and an even darker (both literally and figuratively) tone. This extends itself to the action, or more like the running sequences. Though most are cloaked in darkness, they are shot well enough. If only what the characters go up against were cloaked in darkness for the whole film. They are the types of things that sound scarier when not shown in full, but look dumb when fully revealed.

model

Unfortunately, it is around the middle point of The Maze Runner where the mystery starts to become less intriguing, if only because a sizable chunk of it can be put together. That isn’t to say every detail in the mystery can be nailed, however. It is just that the general mystery as to why they are down in this situation can be nailed. Even with this mild predictability, the movie still carries intrigue, but the reveal found at the end damn near tears all of the positives of the initial start of the story down. It doesn’t help that everything is so serious, despite the movie not really bringing anything thematically to the table.

With yours truly’s thoughts on TMR coming much later than the actual release of the movie, I have heard of the ending being less than satisfactory, and it absolutely is. When the exposition begins, each line only serves to complicate matters, while setting up a sequel, and throwing in a farfetched character appearance that makes no sense whatsoever when only 10 minutes ago matters were bleak for the respective character. Perhaps the ending makes more sense in the book, but it doesn’t translate to the movie.

Thankfully, the bad ending does not mar the generally good acting turned in by the cast. Nothing is really found out about their characters to flesh them out, but their actual thespian work is better than what is often found in the genre. Dylan O’Brien initially looks like the general handsome guy that all of these films seem to have, but he gets chances to prove he isn’t just a handsome face as Thomas. His opposition is Will Poulter, who is the strongest performance-wise in the movie as “Gally,” representing a young man trying to keep order in the wake of the curiosity and change Thomas brings in.

Some of the others, while sort of interchangeable, are fine, with a kid by the name of Blake Cooper sticking out (for good) because he is so different aesthetically from the rest and has a real emotional core that other characters do not have. The only real weak link is Kaya Scodelario, who comes in midway and doesn’t add anything to the plot except being lifeless with a fading American (?) accent.

o'brien

With a strong start and a surprisingly good cast, The Maze Runner is a more entertaining watch than most it shares similarities with. The aforementioned problems prevent it from being a very good film instead of one that is just good for its genre, but the fact that it isn’t Twilight or Vampire Academy is a plus.

Grade: C+

Photo credits go to bloody-disgusting.com, hypable.com, and slashfilm.com.

Follow the Movie Man @MovieManJackson