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

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Now You See Me 2: Movie Man Jackson

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Completely missed opportunity to be named the more interesting Now You Don’t, as opposed to the uninspired Now You See Me 2. It has been one year since the Four Horsemen have been seen last in public. It’s been so long that one member, Henley Reeves, has left the group and “The Eye” entirely. Now left are Danny Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg), Merritt McKinney (Woody Harrelson), Jack Wilder (Dave Franco), and new Horsewoman Lula May (Lizzy Caplan).

The foursome are still being pursued/overseen by FBI agent Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo), and await their next mission, which involves exposing a tech CEO and his practices. Unfortunately, all goes to hell, and the group find all of their secrets exposed. But by who? Enter Walter Mabry (Daniel Radcliffe), rich businessman who wants a powerful piece of technology to remain unseen. The Horseman have no choice: Pull off the job, or die.

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In the first movie, it was Morgan Freeman’s character who mentioned that the audience should “Look closely, because the closer you think you are, the less you’ll actually see.” That only works if there is something worth looking closely at. Now You See Me 2 is not really one of those things.

In a way, NYSM2, in the opinion of yours truly, kind of comes to the fight with one arm tied behind its back, due to the failures of the final act in the first. I was ready to put those failures behind completely behind me, as I did have a little fun with the first, and I sort of did due to the simple fact I paid to see the sequel. Problem is, doesn’t take long to bring those story fails back to the forefront, and the movie never really gets into a flow. It all amounts to a feature that is rather choppy, in both direction and storytelling, and the attempts at humor aren’t all that funny (how this is listed as a comedy on IMDB is beyond me).

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With the heist aspect, movies like the Ocean’s trilogy and Fast Five have been mentioned when discussing Now You See Me 2. But, NYSM2 lacks the energy, fun factor, and functional stories that those movies had, and the twists are so overabundant and just as facepalm-inducing as before, if not more so. So much of the dialogue seems devoid of nothing. Sure, there are a few interesting sequences shot by Jon M. Chu (G.I. Joe: Retaliation), but many of the big scenes pale in comparison to the original’s and look cheaper, despite having a bigger budget. And the explanations for said big scenes? I guess they work enough. But another issue had as a whole with this production is this whole “science vs. magic” matter. It’s like the movie wants to be super-smart with how it pulls off these grand schemes by explaining what happens via conventionality. Cool, but what about the scenes where characters stop rainfall, or vanish into thin air or concrete? That is what needs to be explained.

Bigger budget means bigger cast. Most of the same faces return, and like before, they really aren’t more than followers with little to no character arcs. As the new addition to the magician stable, Lizzy Caplan fits in nicely. Of the four, Harrelson stands out the most in sort of a goofy performance. Issue had is how the writing paints them to be the heroes, almost to a cringy level. For my money, this is a villain versus villain (versus villain) story. Radcliffe is the spoiled pompous youngster who has a tie to a past character, Freeman still serves as the story’s de facto narrator, and Ruffalo plays both sides. There’s no one to truly get behind, and the way threads wrap up with seemingly everything and everyone intertwined and closer than believed, it is hard to see how a third will be done without it feeling overpowered to one side. Yet, a third is all but certain. 

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Every magic trick is said to be broken down into three acts of a pledge, turn, and prestige, and it looks like the same can be said for this series. If Now You See Me is an average pledge, Now You See Me 2 is a pretty broken turn, with little extraordinary coming from the ordinary. Not much anticipation for the prestige.

D

Photo credits go to moviepilot.com, http://www.smh.com.au, and joblo.com.

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The Perfect Guy: Movie Man Jackson

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“Who knows…he could be the perfect guy.”

If he has eyes like Michael Ealy, I too would think he could be The Perfect Guy. Leah Vaughn (Sanaa Lathan) appears to have it all: Being a key cog as a lobbyist for a big-time company, a beautiful home, and a handsome boyfriend, Dave King (Morris Chestnut). The two have been dating consistently for two years, and Leah is ready for Dave to fully commit and make her his wife. He isn’t, however, which leads the two to break up.

A few months after, Leah strikes up conversation with a cool, confident, and attractive fellow, computer security expert Carter Duncan (Michael Ealy). The two become inseparable, fall in love quickly, and Leah truly believes Carter may be the one…until she sees his charming exterior is a facade for a darker, unstable personality. When Leah decides to end the relationship, it turns out to not be the end of things between the two, but a stressful and hellacious beginning.

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Stop me if this sounds familiar, but I’ll likely keep on bringing this up every time I watch and post about these types of movies. If you’ve read yours truly for a while now, you may know that the psycho-thriller subgenre is one of my favorites. Despite the similarities and lack of variety in it, it makes for good popcorn entertainment, which is ultimately what The Perfect Guy is. In a nutshell, it is a bad movie that could easily be putrid, but thankfully there is a semi-good time to be had here and there.

What is the difference between this, and say, recent films like No Good Deed  (interestingly, TPG was greenlit after this, also featuring African-Americans in lead roles) and The Boy Next Door? Not much, but TPG is “stronger” compared to the other two. There’s a confident—not stellar—but confident direction given by director David M. Rosenthal (A Single Shot) that keeps the film squarely on the well-worn path of what came before it. There are some occasional random shots that add nothing to the plotline (Ealy doing pushups, a coyote crossing the street), and events in the plotline can jump ahead without warning preceded with fade-to-black transitions, but generally, there’s nothing technically wrong with how this looks. Score on the other hand? Most of it is too cheesy.

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Plot-wise, this goes down exactly as one would expect. There is no clumsily inputted twist or story revelation (which is actually a good thing) that flips the script; what is here exists as is. It is self-referential in spots, though, especially with a bit that plays on Ealy’s role in Almost Human. About the only mild surprise comes near the end, in which the plot becomes a little “Enough-ish” circa 2002, but still ends how these movies usually do. The stages in the respective relationships move very quickly, making everything feel processed and on a fast track to get to the next thing rather than organically getting there, or at least feeling like it.

The cast is the strongest aspect of TPG. Sanaa Lathan is steady in what she’s asked to do, is smarter than most lead characters in the genre, and passes as a badass in the climax, Morris Chestnut is simply there to move things along, vanishing when needed to, and reappearing when the movie calls for it, but clicks enough with Lathan.However, the two that make this any better than it has a right to be are easily Michael Ealy, and Holt McCallany.

When watching Ealy in this, one wonders what heights he could reach if he received better roles. I’m not saying to take this as evidence that he could win an Oscar with what he does here, but he is real effortless in flipping a switch, from smooth to psychotic. Luckily his character, written as a security expert, allows him to be the “God mode” type character with it kind of—sort of—being believable. Some of what he has to do is downright comedic which probably wasn’t intended, but he seems to be in the know that it is comedic, even if the director doesn’t.

In what initially seems like a smaller role that grows into being more substantial as the runtime goes on, McCallany is great as the detective assigned to protect Leah. He’s actually knowledgeable and knows that he’s fighting an uphill battle to apprehend Carter. Yet, he doesn’t stop in protecting Leah only because the law has tied his hands. He also shares scenes with Ealy that are the best in the movie.

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The Perfect Guy is not the psycho-thriller you marry and watch over and over again. It is the type of psycho-thriller that you spend some brief time with (100 minutes to be exact), have some fun, know what you’re signing up for, and, hopefully, being decently entertained in the process.

Grade: C

Photo credits go to dishnation.com, YouTube.com, and usatoday.com.

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