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Movie review: 'American Assassin' misses more shots than it hits
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Dylan O'Brien stars in "American Assassin."
Courtesy CBS/Lionsgate

By Chip Chandler — Digital Content Producer

American Assassin wants you to think it's deep.

Plenty of lip service is paid to the idea that revenge is toxic to the vengeful, but the film tell a completely different story both visually and, eventually, plot-wise. The movie hints at complex thoughts about America's place in geopolitical turmoil, but it settles for blaming a few bad apples.

Teen Wolf's Dylan O'Brien is the unlikely protagonist, Mitch Rapp, who witnesses his girlfriend being gunned down by terrorists shortly after she accepted his marriage proposal. He molds himself into a one-man kill squad, (implausibly) tracking down the terrorist cell and winding up on the radar of CIA Deputy Director Irene Kennedy (Sanaa Lathan, given virtually nothing to do).

She drafts him and sends him off to train with a former Navy SEAL, Stan Hurley (Michael Keaton), and soon enough, Mitch learns that one of Stan's former proteges, Ghost (Taylor Kitsch), has become an international arms dealer, and everyone's off to Italy to prevent a nuclear disaster.

O'Brien does a passable job as an action hero, but the disconnect between the hollowed-out revenge monster of the film's first half and the occasionally quippy action hero of the second half doesn't quite resolve itself. Keaton, of course, is fantastic — too good for this movie, surely. 

The globetrotting, brutal physicality and hints of doubts about the military-industrial complex seem designed to fool us into thinking we're watching one of the Bourne movies, but American Assassin isn't nearly as deep as anything in that franchise. Director Michael Cuesta (Showtime's Homeland) makes the film look great, particularly when his camera makes it clear that O'Brien, Kitsch and others are doing their own stunts; a fight aboard a speeding motorboat is especially fun.

Turning your brain off in an action movie is certainly nothing new, and when I was able to do that, American Assassin wasn't half bad. But the script (credited to Stephen Schiff, Michael Finch, Marshall Herskovitz and Ed Zwick) kept insisting that it had deep thoughts to share, then kept falling short — too often, it turned out, for me to enjoy the film.

(R for strong violence throughout, some torture, language and brief nudity; click here for showtimes at United Artists Amarillo Star 14, 8275 W. Amarillo Blvd., and Cinemark Hollywood 16, 9100 Canyon Drive)



Chip Chandler is a digital content producer for Panhandle PBS. He can be contacted at, at @chipchandler1 on Twitter and on Facebook.