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. firstname.lastname@example.org
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.”
Dylan O’Brien stars as Mitch Rapp in American Assassin.