A killing ma­chine rides the con­veyor belt

The Nation - - SIDELINES -

“American Assassin” opens on the beach in Ibiza, as Mitch Rapp (Dy­lan O’Brien) is propos­ing to his girl­friend (Char­lotte Vega). She is killed by Is­lamic ter­ror­ists and Mitch un­der­goes a kind of phys­i­cal and po­lit­i­cal trans­for­ma­tion that only oc­curs in Hol­ly­wood, or in the pages of pot­boil­ers. The movie fast-for­wards 18 months to a new and im­proved ver­sion of our hero – who has man­aged to train him­self in mar­tial arts and weapons han­dling, as well as Ara­bic lan­guage and cul­ture. Mitch 2.0 is pre­par­ing to sin­gle-hand­edly in­fil­trate the rad­i­cal Is­lamist mil­i­tant cell in Libya re­spon­si­ble for the slaugh­ter of the opening scene. Mean­while, Mitch is be­ing mon­i­tored – and, ul­ti­mately, re­cruited – by the CIA, as its deputy di­rec­tor (Sanaa Lathan) an­nounces that he’s “off the charts” in ap­ti­tude for the top-se­cret Orion pro­gramme, a special-ops com­mando unit un­der the tute­lage and over­sight of ex-Navy SEAL Stan Hur­ley (Michael Keaton). The bad news? Mitch doesn’t like to fol­low rules. The good news? That’s just how we like our ac­tion heroes. It’s all as phoney as it sounds. Keaton, at least, looks the part. The story, adapted for the screen by Stephen Schiff, Michael Finch, Ed­ward Zwick and Marshall Her­skovitz, and directed by Michael Cuesta, leaves most of the tough-guy act­ing to him. When Stan and Mitch go af­ter a rogue Orion grad­u­ate who has ob­tained a nu­clear de­vice (Tay­lor Kitsch), it is Stan, not Mitch, who gets cap­tured and tor­tured, in scenes that feel like some­one be­hind the cam­era is tak­ing a lit­tle too much plea­sure in fin­ger­nail re­moval. It’s very ma­cho and vi­o­lent, a la “24”, with women play­ing sec­ondary and/or dis­pos­able char­ac­ters. De­spite – or per­haps be­cause of – this Cat­e­gory 3 testos­terone storm, “American Assassin” feels es­pe­cially bor­ing. Con­tain­ing only the most for­mu­laic ac­tion and few gen­uine thrills, the movie ad­vances to­ward its fore­gone con­clu­sion with all the sub­tlety of a tool and die ma­chine, stamp­ing out one overly fa­mil­iar scene af­ter an­other. Rated 18+ The Wash­ing­ton Post

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