Considering how generic this slice of vaguely xenophobic counter-terror wish-fulfillment is, it comes as a surprise how bloody American Assassin turns out to be. From the get-go, the film’s violence is frequently shocking (well, R16-level shocking, not the fully traumatising kind). Quickly squandering any emotional investment in its lead, American Assassin dares you to care as its rote plot follows a good-looking US government-endorsed psycho (Dylan O’Brien) as he’s taken under the wing of a grizzled, experienced, US government-endorsed psycho (Michael Keaton) to take down a different good-looking non-US-government-endorsed psycho (Taylor Kitsch) who’s working with a bunch of not-quite-so-awesome psychos (various).
Most probably, we’re expected to identify with O’Brien’s character Mitch Rapp as he responds to personal tragedy by transforming into a revenge-driven killing machine, allowed into a covert squad of US agents after he beats up Scott Adkins. While Rapp’s hairdo and torso may appeal to a younger generation than the Tom Cruises or Matt Damons of this world, they’re the first examples that spring to mind as having done this better before, and with more charisma.
While he never really sells his trauma, O’Brien proves more adept at often very MMA-style fights than you’d expect, and you buy his steely concentration down the barrel of a gun. But he’s starved of anything to go up against, with Kitsch not proving much of a villain. It is great to see Michael Keaton as a take-no-shit mentor – he’s certainly not the sort of boss he’s played previously in Spotlight (or The Other Guys, for that matter) – and he gets to enjoyably ham it up a bit when the tables get turned on him.
But, yeah, it’s just all so familiar. Even – sort of – an unexpectedly over-the-top ending, which looks for a moment like it might belong better in an Emmerich film.