American Assassin

There’s nothing especially urgent or timely about American Assassin, even though it deals with plans to unleash a nuclear bomb and destroy the world.

That’s because the premise outweighs the execution in this lackluster vigilante thriller from director Michael Cuesta (Kill the Messenger), in which the obligatory twists and plot mechanics feel inauthentic and cause the excitement to dwindle.

Still grieving the loss of his parents, Mitch Rapp (Dylan O’Brien) watches his girlfriend killed in cold blood during an apparent terrorist attack on a Spanish beach, just moments after proposing. Naturally, he becomes bitter and eager for revenge, and hatches a plan to infiltrate the offending terror cell himself. While that fails, his efforts catch the attention of a government counterterrorism official (Sanaa Lathan) who sees him as the perfect recruit for a series of black ops missions.

That first act offers an intriguing perspective on the ongoing war on terror, even if it oversimplifies some of the sociopolitical details. It’s still preferable to what follows, such as the forced partnership between Rapp and his CIA-assigned trainer (Michael Keaton), a Cold War veteran and tough-love mentor whose drill-sergeant tactics cause friction with the brazen hotshot.

Even more problematic is the convoluted storyline about double agents, stolen plutonium, and an impending nuclear attack by a wide-ranging terror network masking its endgame with smaller attacks on civilian targets.

From there, the film navigates a predictably high-stakes, high-tech tale of conflicting loyalties while jet-setting among a handful of European and Middle Eastern locales, leading up to a ridiculous climax set aboard a runaway motorboat. And random jihadists are thrown in as plot devices, like countless other movies of this sort.

The book from which the screenplay is adapted — written by the late Vince Flynn — is chronologically the first of several stories involving the Rapp character, and presumably the plan is to launch a big-screen franchise, as well.

If that’s the case, hopefully future installments won’t squander the efforts of the charismatic O’Brien (The Maze Runner), who showcases his versatility and proves himself capable of handling the physical demands of a bona fide action star. He portrays a compelling character in search of a better movie.


Rated R, 111 minutes.