Susan Granger’s review of “American Assassin” (Lionsgate/CBS Films)
Derivative but diverting, this timely political thriller centers on covert U.S. operatives zeroing in on terrorist factions and renegade mercenaries.
It begins on the Spanish island of Ibiza, where Mitch Rapp (Dylan O’Brien) proposes to his blonde, bikini-clad girl-friend, Katrina (Charlotte Vega). She accepts, but their idyllic vacation ends in a bloodbath when Katrina is killed, along with other beach-goers, by Uzi-toting Muslim terrorists from a Libyan group under Adnan Al-Mansur (Shahid Ahmad).
Determined to avenge Katrina’s murder by infiltrating Al-Mansur’s Tripoli-based cell, traumatized Rapp quits his graduate studies to buff up and learn marksmanship, martial arts and Arabic, which attracts attention from U.S. intelligence.
Although the CIA director (David Suchet) has his doubts about channeling Rapp’s unbridled thirst for revenge, the counterintelligence chief (Sanaa Lathan) views him as an ideal assassin because “He’s testing through the roof!”
So Rapp is sent off to be trained by grizzled, ex-Navy SEAL Stan Hurley (Michael Keaton) at a no-nonsense boot camp in Virginia, where he goads his pupils to “kill me.”
When Rapp goes into the field to track down stolen weapons-grade plutonium, he’s accompanied by another trainee, Victor (Scott Adkins), and a Turkish agent, Annika (Shiva Negar), eventually facing a former American agent-turned-rogue mercenary (Taylor Kitsch) dubbed Ghost, who is brokering the plutonium-239 deal in Poland.
Based on a series of pulp novels by the late Vince Flynn, it’s adapted by – count ‘em – four different screenwriters, including Stephen Schiff (TV’s “The Americans”), and directed by Michael Cuesta (“Kill the Messenger”).
The cliché-riddled result is completely predictable, including a climactic showdown at sea, involving a speedboat, helicopter and the U.S. fleet.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “American Assassin” is a flat, formulaic 5, despite its fast-moving action sequences.