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‘American Assassin’ Is As Dull as Ditch-Water

By Rebecca Pahle | Reviews | September 19, 2017 |

By Rebecca Pahle | Reviews | September 19, 2017 |

With American Assassin, Michael Cuesta (Kill the Messenger) has made a movie where Michael Keaton bites Taylor Kitsch’s ear off unspeakably boring.

Who knew it was possible?

Michael Cuesta’s a talented man.

It’s a not a talent I would want but, you know, it’s a living.

Lest I make American Assassin sound too interesting with my talk of Michael Keaton taking a chomp out of Tim Riggins’ ear—and that’s great, OK, I would watch anything if Michael Keaton bit off Tim Riggins’ ear in it. I would rewatch A DOG’S PURPOSE if Michael Keaton bit off Tim Riggins’ ear in it—this one particular, shining moment is a few seconds of beauty in a turgid sea of blehhhhhhhh. Cure for insomnia? Maybe! Entertaining action spectacle? Fuck the fuck right off.

Dylan O’Brien stars as Mitch Rapp, a ~*~GRITTY~*~ ~*~BROODER~*~ whose fiancée is gunned down by terrorists (one of them wears striped board shorts) on a beach, sending him down a dark path that ends with him being recruited by the CIA to be a… DUN DUN DUNNNNN… AMERICAN ASSASSIN. His mentor is the legendary ex-Navy Seal and utter hardass Stan Hurley, played by Michael Keaton, who is sufficiently talented to make Hackfest 2000 lines like “the enemy dresses like a deer and kills like a lion” sound… vaguely like something a real human being would say? Ish? I dunno, man. Michael Keaton has charisma for days, but there are some things no one can make work.

Look, I’m just going to share with you some of the clichéd bullshit lines that get spouted by Keaton, O’Brien and Sanaa Lathan (playing the CIA deputy director in charge of anti-terrorism) in this flavor-free moldy yogurt of a movie:

“He’s testing through the roof. Might be the best we’ve ever seen.”
“You saw those tests? He’s off the charts.” WE GET IT, WE GET IT, MITCH RAPP IS OFF THE CHARTS, HE’S SPECIAL, FUCK OFF.
“My goal is to have them lie awake at night knowing I’m coming for them.”
“God dammit, Rapp! Stay under control!”
“That’s a shit-ton of plutonium.”
“That’s our mag dog out there.”
“Sharif’s got the honey. Now we just wait for the bee.”

In case you were wondering, American Assassin is based on a popular series of bestsellers by the late Vince Flynn, found in an airport near you. The presence of a pre-existing fanbase (of… people who fly a lot? Your dad, maybe? I don’t know.) is the only reason a milquetoast nothingburger of a movie like this would get made. The lines above make American Assassin look hammy, and it’s not. I can do ham. I love ham. American Assassin is generic and self-serious and visually boring. There’s a plot about Iranians trying to acquire a nuke to blow up Israel, which is, golly gee, just so original and also maybe quasi-racist I don’t even fucking know. I’m stuck on how this “Middle Eastern terrorist” subplot is something you’d find in a ’90s action movie that you only remember existed when you see it in the $5 bin at Wal-Mart. Has the art of cinema reverted back to 1996? Is that’s what’s going on here? If that’s the case, I want to know where my second coming of The Craft is.

There’s a countdown clock on the nuke. A FUCKING COUNTDOWN CLOCK.

You know what, though? If this movie had actually been made in the ’90s, instead of being some joyless throwback, it would have A) starred Nic Cage, probably and B) been at least a little bonkers. (There also would have been more seagulls dramatically flying in a church. GIVE ME SEAGULLS FLYING DRAMATICALLY IN A CHURCH.) I used to watch Teen Wolf, Lionsgate, you bunch of fuckers. (I quit around the time there was a werepanther. I think? Maybe after. I don’t know. It all blends together. #JusticeforBoyd) I know Dylan O’Brien is a charismatic little friend-o. I know he can be funny. Let him be funny.


I would like to ask American Assassin screenwriters Stephen Schiff, Michael Finch, Edward Zwick and Marshall Herskovitz what about the subject matter of American Assassin is so goddamn serious that you think you’re better than throwing a goddamn joke or two in the mix.

War for the Planet of the Apes had jokes. Fuck, War for the Planet of the Apes had an entire comic relief character. And you know what War of the Planet of the Apes also had?


You have boilerplate CIA assassin with a DEAD FIANCEE who TESTS AT THE TOP OF THE CHARTS and DOESN’T TAKE ORDERS and PLAYS BY HIS OWN RULES. Well Sinead O’Rebellion! Shock me, shock me, shock me with that deviant behavior.

AND YET YOU CAN’T THROW ME A CHUCKLE OR THREE? A knock-knock joke? Something?


Call me when Michael Keaton takes a bite out of Landry.