Amer­i­can As­sas­sin

Standard-Freeholder (Cornwall) - - CLASSIFIEDS - CHRIS KNIGHT (out of 5) JEFF BAE­NEN

From its rogue op­er­a­tives to its dou­ble-crosses and “don’t trust any­one” speeches, stolen nukes and a splash of Euro-lo­cales, Amer­i­can As­sas­sin is a new spy movie that feels a lot like all the old spy movies. Call it The Bourne Simulacrum.

Dy­lan O’Brien (The Maze Run­ner) stars as Mitch Rapp, set on a trail of bloody vengeance when ter­ror­ists gun down his fi­ancé of five min­utes while the two are on a re­sort va­ca­tion. Lit­tle more than a year later, Mitch has be­come a self­made, one-man ex­pert in Ko­ranic wis­dom, the Ara­bic lan­guage and weapons tech­nol­ogy. He’s then re­cruited by the CIA, which wants him to come in from the cold.

Sanaa Lathan is deputy di­rec­tor Irene Kennedy, but Mitch’s real con­tact in the agency is Stan Hur­ley, played by Michael Keaton in the type of role that gen­er­ally goes to Kevin Cost­ner th­ese days (see Jack Ryan: Shadow Re­cruit,3 Days to Kill, etc.). Keaton is hav­ing far more fun than you will at this movie.

Mitch’s train­ing makes for a manly ap­pren­tice­ship, con­ver­sa­tion in­ter­spersed with fight­ing and the oc­ca­sional electric shock. Pupil and teacher are con­stantly feel­ing each other out, search­ing for weak­nesses. If there weren’t a com­mon threat in the form of black-mar­ket plu­to­nium, they ’d prob­a­bly kill each other.

In­stead, Mitch and the rest of Stan’s team have to track down and elim­i­nate the bad guys be­fore they can build a nu­clear trig­ger and hi­jack a physi­cist. Just about ev­ery­one men­tions at some point that Mitch shouldn’t be trusted — and it turns out they’re right — but Stan is will­ing to look the other way as long as he gets re­sults.

Oc­ca­sion­ally th­ese re­sults re­quire quick shoot­ing and even quicker think­ing — or no think­ing at all. Hard to tell the dif­fer­ence Di­rec­tor: michael Cuesta Star­ring: dy­lan o’Brien, shiva Ne­gar, michael keaton Run­ning time: 1 hours, 51 min. some­times. Other times it’s quick driv­ing, with Mitch slalom­ing around per­fectly spaced cars on the streets of Rome. This is where your sus­pen­sion of dis­be­lief may be bro­ken, since if there’s one tru­ism about Ro­man traf­fic, it’s that the cars are never even close to per­fectly spaced.

A quar­tet of writ­ers adapted Amer­i­can As­sas­sin from the 2010 novel, di­rected by Michael Cuesta (TV’s Home­land). The cast is a mostly for­get­table lot of snarling vil­lains and sac­ri­fi­cial he­roes, although Ira­nian-born Shiva Ne­gar does a good job as the req­ui­site ex­otic in­tel­li­gence agent and pos­si­ble love in­ter­est.

Still, the fo­cus re­mains squarely on O’Brien, whom you can see treat­ing this as an ex­tended screen test for a hoped-for fran­chise. Af­ter all, with 13 Mitch Rapp nov­els al­ready on the book­shelf from Vince Flynn, and three more by Kyle Mills since the orig­i­nal au­thor’s death, there’s am­ple op­por­tu­nity for Rapp to re­turn. Let’s just hope he finds some­thing to dis­tin­guish him­self from the Jack Ryans, Jack Bauers and Ethan Hunts of the world. “Based on a novel” is about the only thing novel about it. ck­night@post­media.com

MIN­NEAPO­LIS — Af­ter twists and turns wor­thy of the very spy se­ries it sprung from, a movie fea­tur­ing the in­domitable fic­tional ter­ror­ism fighter Mitch Rapp is about to hit movie screens na­tion­wide — four years af­ter his cre­ator, au­thor Vince Flynn, died from prostate can­cer.

Amer­i­can As­sas­sin, the first movie based on a Flynn best­seller, pre­mieres Fri­day, fea­tur­ing Dy­lan O’Brien (The Maze Run­ner )as Rapp and Michael Keaton as his weath­ered men­tor, Stan Hur­ley, on a mis­sion to avert nu­clear war in the Mid­dle East.

Get­ting Rapp to the big screen has been a decade-long odyssey, said Amer­i­can As­sas­sin pro­ducer Lorenzo di Bon­aven­tura, a fan of the se­ries who got to know Flynn be­fore his death in 2013.

“When Vince died we re­dou­bled our ef­forts to get this made. I owed him that,” said di Bon­aven­tura, who pro­duced the Trans­form­ers movies.

Flynn, a na­tive of St. Paul, wrote 14 po­lit­i­cal thrillers, start­ing with his self-pub­lished Term Lim­its in 1997, and fea­tured his CIA coun­tert­er­ror­ism op­er­a­tive Rapp in 13. His books have sold nearly 20 mil­lion copies in the U.S. and mil­lions more world­wide, and in­clude for­mer U.S. pres­i­dents Bill Clin­ton and Ge­orge W. Bush among fans.

But mak­ing a Mitch Rapp movie proved elu­sive. Orig­i­nally Flynn’s novel Con­sent to Kill was con­sid­ered, then put aside. Train­ing Day di­rec­tor An­toine Fuqua orig­i­nally was at­tached to di­rect Amer­i­can As­sas­sin, but moved on to di­rect Olym­pus Has Fallen. Chris Hemsworth passed on the lead role be­cause of sched­ul­ing is­sues, and Bruce Wil­lis was in­ter­ested in play­ing Hur­ley but no deal was made.

Producers had to get cam­eras rolling be­fore the film rights re­verted to Flynn’s es­tate, di Bon­aven­tura said.

“We weren’t at an ur­gent level but we were ap­proach­ing them,” he said. Film­mak­ers also had to wait while O’Brien re­cov­ered from an in­jury suf­fered dur­ing an ac­ci­dent while film­ing a Maze Run­ner se­quel in 2016. Fi­nally the 55-day shoot be­gan last Septem­ber and jumped from Lon­don to Rome and Malta be­fore fin­ish­ing in Thai­land.

Changes were made to the plot of the film. In­stead of hav­ing Rapp out for vengeance af­ter his girl­friend is killed in the 1988 Locker­bie bomb­ing, the movie moves the ac­tion to present day with Rapp’s fi­ancee slain in a ter­ror­ist beach mas­sacre in Spain. That cre­ates an ori­gin story and places Rapp, who is 23 in the story, closer in age to the 26-year-old O’Brien.

“We were not mak­ing a pe­riod piece,” said co-screen­writer Stephen Schiff, who said he came up with the beach mas­sacre open­ing. “That seems like no way to launch a fran­chise.”

Eigh­teen months af­ter the beach mur­der, Rapp is re­cruited by a CIA leader played by Sanaa Lathan for in­tense train­ing by Hur­ley and given a mis­sion to stop a for­mer Hur­ley pro­tege known as Ghost (played by Tay­lor Kitsch) from start­ing a world war. (In a nod to Rapp’s cre­ator, a bat­tle­ship in the film’s thrilling cli­max was named Flynn).

Di­rec­tor Michael Cuesta, whose cred­its in­clude the movie Kill the Mes­sen­ger and the Show­time se­ries Home­land, was quick to praise his star. “I think Dy­lan brought an in­no­cence and a boy­ish­ness, boynext-door qual­ity to the char­ac­ter,” he said. “Dy­lan doesn’t look like your typ­i­cal as­sas­sin.”

O’Brien said he was taken with the story of Rapp’s jour­ney from young man — “a wounded hu­man” — to as­sas­sin.

“I thought that was a re­ally fresh con­cept,” said O’Brien, who is mak­ing his own tran­si­tion from the teen roles of The Maze Run­ner and TV’s Teen Wolf. O’Brien did about eight weeks of train­ing, go­ing to a gym with his trainer ev­ery day and learn­ing dif­fer­ent mar­tial arts.

“This is a happy time. It’s just such an hon­our to see the movie fi­nally hap­pen­ing,” she said, adding that Vince Flynn will “al­ways live on in his books. It’s like hav­ing him back for a time.”

HaNd­oUt

Dy­lan O’Brien stars as Mitch Rapp in Amer­i­can As­sas­sin.

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