‘Amer­i­can Assassin’ has grow­ing up to do be­fore tak­ing his place as an ac­tion hero

Grand am­bi­tions for Mitch Rapp not tak­ing root

Pawtucket Times - - FILM - By MICHAEL O’SUL­LI­VAN

It's pos­si­ble that Dy­lan O'Brien may some­day grow into the role of Mitch Rapp — the dan­ger­ously lethal ter­ror­ist-hunter hero of the late Vince Flynn's pop­u­lar se­ries of pulpy spy nov­els — but in the cin­e­matic ori­gin story "Amer­i­can Assassin," based on one of Flynn's books, he ain't there yet.

De­spite his scruffy beard and some pass­able ac­tion se­quences, the ac­tor, who just turned 26, still comes across as a not ter­ri­bly in­ter­est­ing, snot-nosed kid: an only slightly older and only mildly an­grier ver­sion of the ado­les­cent char­ac­ter he played — and con­tin­ues to play — in the "Maze Run­ner" movies.

Clearly, CBS Films, which has bought the rights to Flynn's Mitch Rapp books, is hop­ing the char­ac­ter has legs. But first, "Assassin" has to make some money. If Flynn's diehard fans don't buy O'Brien's pretty boy as a killing ma­chine, there may not be a sec­ond — let alone a third — opportunity for the ac­tor to grow up.

"Amer­i­can Assassin" opens on the beach in Ibiza, as the still-soft-and-sen­si­tive ver­sion of Mitch is propos­ing to his girl­friend (Char­lotte Vega). But 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 pro­gram, 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 phony 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 ("Kill the Mes­sen­ger"), leaves most of the toughguy 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 the se­condary and/or dis­pos­able char­ac­ters.

Shiva Ne­gar ap­pears briefly, as a mys­te­ri­ous Turk­ish spy.

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.

In the end, Mitch Rapp comes across as a poor man's Ja­son Bourne. But at least that fran­chise, af­ter five movies, is only now start­ing to ex­hibit signs of bat­tle fa­tigue. "Amer­i­can Assassin" is just get­ting started, and it al­ready feels worn out.

One and one-half stars. Rated R. At area the­aters. Con­tains strong vi­o­lence through­out, some tor­ture, crude lan­guage and brief nu­dity. 111 min­utes.

Chris­tian Black/CBS Films-Lionsgate

Dylan O'Brien in "Amer­i­can As­sas­sin."

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