MICHAEL Keaton soared as the levitating Birdman. He sold McDonald’s cheesy founder. Even his blue-collar villain in Spider-Man: Homecoming felt like the work of a master craftsman.
But the Oscar-nominated actor is oddly miscast in American Assassin, as ex-Navy SEAL Stan Hurley.
The big budget action thriller’s hero (Teen Wolf’s Dylan O’Brien) and villain (Taylor Kitsch) are no more convincing.
Only Shiva Negar’s glamorous but deadly Turkish CIA agent, Annika, feels like she belongs in the heightened fictional world where international arms dealers trade in weapons grade plutonium and nuclear triggers.
American Assassin is based on Vince Flynn’s best-selling “origin” novel about a hot-headed CIA black ops agent named Mitch Rapp (O’Brien).
To contemporise the story, the filmmakers have relocated Rapp’s transformative tragedy — the death of his fiance at the hands of Muslim terrorists — to a Spanish resort.
Rapp witnesses her execution — a bullet to the heart — before succumbing to his own injuries.
Just 18 months later, the fresh-faced college student has metamorphosed into a pumped-up avenger, fluent in Arabic, knives, guns, MMA fighting and Islamic scripture.
Rapp has one remaining purpose in his life: to kill bad guys.
Adnan Al-Masur (Shahid Ahmen), the man who led the Spanish attack, is No 1 on his list.
Posing as a jihadi extremist, Rapp succeeds in gaining an audience with Al-Masur in Libya.
The CIA — Rapp’s late-night chats with terrorists have flagged the agency’s attention — finishes the job.
Despite her colleagues’ understandable misgivings, CIA deputy director Irene Kennedy (Sanaa Lathan) immediately recruits Rapp to her off-the-books counter-terrorism team.
She sends him to Hurley’s “finishing school” to polish his dark arts and learn a bit of discipline.
Fat chance of that.
On the ground in Istanbul, Rapp gets the job done — whatever the cost.
But while he swiftly eliminates the supporting players, the mastermind of the Iranian-backed plan to build a giant nuclear bomb (nicknamed The Ghost) always seems to be one step ahead.
Flynn’s novels were meticulously researched — President Bush once described them as “a little too accurate”.
And the plot of for this big budget action thriller is perfectly serviceable.
It falters in the execution.
Rapp is being positioned as a morally ambiguous action franchise hero in the mould of Jason Bourne or James Bond.
But Matt Damon and Daniel Craig’s characters clearly have history.
O’Brien’s action hero feels more like a blank page.
And Kitsch was darker and more convincingly troubled as the small-town football hero in Friday Night Lights.
In a multiplex environment in which even comic book superheroes are psychologically complex, American Assassin misses its target by a surprisingly large margin.
American Assassin is now screening.
AMERICAN ASSASSIN (MA15+)
Director: Michael Cuesta
Starring: Dylan O’Brien, Michael Keaton, Taylor Kitsch
Verdict: New action franchise fires a blank
Originally published as Action-thriller more filler than killer