Review – Bourne in the USA (“American Assassin”)

Looks like Jason Bourne or John Wick have a copycat cousin with this potentially new franchise of a secret FBI group of rogue assassins called Orion, taking on the dirtiest of jobs that happen in the world. And good ol’ Michael Keaton is there to lead them on, and this time without his Vulture costume or gear. That was a Spider-man: Homecoming  reference, BTW.

Mitch Rapp (Dylan O’Brien) and his lovely girlfriend just got engaged on the beautiful sun-kissed beaches of Spain. (Yaay!) But some non-descript terrorists crash the party and start killing people (Boooo!). Mitch’s love is gone, he’s shot-up, and 18 months later, he’s left with an overpowering rage to kill every terrorist on the planet. Not a bad plan IF you can carry it out, thinks FBI Deputy Director Irene Kennedy (Saana Lathan), who decides to recruit young and lethal Mitch to her clandestine Orion program. Why Mitch? Oh, he tried to single-handedly take out an entire terrorist cell in Istanbul after self-teaching himself the Islamic language, martial arts, and deadly fighting skills.

The leader of Orion, gruff and no-nonsense Stan Hurley (Keaton) takes Mitch under his wing, but never gives the kid any real support or trust. And yes, there’s a real good reason for that. Looks like Stan’s former star pupil, Ronnie (Taylor Kitsch), went bad (really bad) and has resurfaced under the nickname of Ghost, helping Iranian extremists steal a spit-load of weapons-grade nuclear material to make a super-nasty bomb. Quicker than you say, “Mission: Impossible”, Team Orion is hot on the trail of Ghost in Turkey, with the help of lovely FBI informant, Annika (Shiva Negar).

Finding that nuclear material is one thing, but they also have to find the device trigger, AND the nuclear physicist who’ll arm the bomb! Yeah, it’s gonna be a loooong day! With bloody shoot-outs galore, double-crosses left and right, and the team dwindling down to only Mitch, Annika, and Stan, things ain’t lookin’ so good. With so much at stake and that bomb ready to go boom, you know that former pupil and teacher will eventually meet up for a little tete-a-tete (and a gruesome torture scene–yuck!).

Mitch, ever the brash and impulsive young man that he is, doesn’t take orders well, and takes matters into his own hands, saving the day. Much like the recent, The Man From U.N.C.L.E., the recycled plot of bad guys stealing nuclear bomb material and good guys going after it is boring as hell, not to mention the tired storyline of the revenge-minded guy who lost a loved one and now wants to kill everyone in sight (Death Wish, anyone?). So putting the two flavors-of-the-month together won’t titillate your movie taste buds, but at very least you get some nice on-location shooting!

Michael Cuesta, making his motion-picture directorial debut here (he’s directed only TV stuff like Six Feet Under and Dexter), shot in Turkey, Istanbul, and picturesque Rome, so that’s a plus. But a former TV director does not a big screen director make; consider the all-too important fight scenes. Sloppily shot with a steady-cam, Cuesta shoulda taken a page from Bourne or Wick directors Paul Greengrass & Chad Stahelski on how to properly film a fight. Cuesta’s are just a mess.

But the real problem is the script, compiled by FOUR writers! Stephen Schiff (True Crime), Michael Finch (The November Man), Edward Zwick (The Last Samurai), and Marshal Herskovitz (Blood Diamond), each one (with the exception of Zwick) not exactly having a proven track record in screenplays. Truth be told, American Assassin is based on Vince Flynn’s 16 novels with Mitch Rapp’s wild adventures, so it’s no wonder that this story is a diluted, worn-out, and over-used plot, since they didn’t know which novel to base the movie on. Mitch’s character is even boiled down to making him just a cookie-cutter, luke-warm Jason Bourne/John Wick mélange. Snore.

                          

Death Wish (1974)

Just like in the song, Murder By Numbers by the Police, the lyrics go: “Once that you’ve decided on a killing/ First you make a stone of your heart”. And whether you’re taking out terrorists or your garden variety NYC street thug, the same is essentially true. Just ask NYC architect Paul Kersey, played to perfection by granite-faced actor, Charles Bronson.

Living in seedy Manhattan with his wife (Hope Lange) and daughter (Kathleen Tolan) isn’t easy, especially after three low-life’s kill Paul’s wife and leave Carol catatonic in the hospital. Enraged that the police won’t/can’t help catch the perpetrators, Paul gets an idea while on vacation in Tucson, Arizona. He sees an old-fashioned gunfight and outlaw vigilantism. The fact that his shooting skills at a gun club are damn accurate, are a bonus as well! Back home in NYC, Paul goes out one night and shoots a mugger. Surprised at how easy it was, he gets a taste for killin’ and indulges himself almost every night. Central Park, dark alleys, the subway, the whole dark city is his lethal playground.<

Meanwhile, the entire city is gripped with talk of vigilantes and police Lt. Frank Ochoa (Vincent Gardenia) is assigned to find the killer–even with his ever-present cold. As the killings go up, Frank is getting closer to who he thinks might be pulling the trigger, and finally a break leads him to Paul. But just as Frank has Paul dead-to-rights, a problem occurs: the D.A. and the Police Commissioner don’t want that fact to get out to the street. Why? Because street crime has dropped dramatically since Paul became a vigilante. Arrest Paul? Nawww… that will just make him a martyr to the people. What to do then? Get him out of town… quietly and permanently!

Unfortunately, while Paul is gunning down some bad guys in Central Park, he’s shot by one of the thugs, and then taken to the hospital. Frank shows up and gives Paul the city’s ultimatum–leave or ELSE! Paul, decides to go to Chicago and, wouldn’tcha know it, he sees some villainous hoodlums in the airport lobby. Pointing his finger at them (like a gun), we are left with only questions. But not really. The Death Wish franchise continued with four more sequels, each one starring Bronson as Kersey, as each one getting more ridiculous in their plot as they progressed.

Adapted by Wendell Mayes from the novel, this movie glorified vigilantism instead of denouncing it, as in the book. Director Michael Winner and Bronson made at least six films together (Death Wish 2 & 3, The Mechanic, Chato’s Land), this being the first entry. Check out the overly synthesized 70’s musical score by a young Herbie Hancock and look for very young actors Christopher Guest (Princess Bride), Jeff Goldblum (Jurassic Park), Olympia Dukakis (Moonstruck), and others making their film debut.

Side Note. As in Hollywood these days, every movie has to be remade because… reasons, and Death Wish is no exception. Sylvester Stallone is producing the remake this November with Bruce Willis as Paul Kersey and Elisabeth Shue as the soon-to-be-dead Mrs. Kersey.

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