Review – Needs More Cowbell (“The Rhythm Section”)

Personally, I’m getting a little tired of all the cookie-cutter, boring, female-driven revenge/action films that are being churned out these days (Peppermint, Proud Mary, Red Sparrow, etc.) Welp, here’s another cookie-cutter script you can add to that growing list. *sigh*.


*
Just like Le Femme Nikita, but with gender-bending American Assassin overtones, we get the jumbled, chaotic tale of Stephanie Patrick (an amazing Blake Lively) who, once her entire family gets wiped out in an airplane terrorist bombing, turned to a life of drug abuse and prostitution. Well, I guess that’s one way of coping. Anyway, three years later, an investigative journalist named Keith Proctor (Raza Jaffrey) finds Stephanie and tells her that Reza (Tawfeek Barhom), the guy who made the bomb, is back on the streets in London. Wanting revenge, Stephanie leaves her tricking days behind her and, failing to kill Reza by herself, decides she could use some help.

Following Proctor’s leads, she locates hardcore ex-MI-6 agent Iain Boyd (Jude Law) in Scotland who reluctantly trains Stephanie to be a spy. After a few months, she’s kinda/sorta ready to go track down several leads in Madrid, New York, Marseilles, and Tangiers to get to the elusive and mysterious “U-17”, the person who requested the bomb be made by Reza. Who is this U-17? That’s what Stephanie, using the disguise of a dead ex-Russian agent, will have to discover by buying info from ex-CIA agent Marc Serra (Sterling K. Brown).

But Stephanie isn’t your typical bad-ass secret agent like in Atomic Blonde or Red Sparrow as she’s not very good at this whole spy thing. She frequently gets her ass handed to her in a fight, her shooting skills aren’t the best, and she freezes up when taking a life. Yeah, she needed a few more months training, to be sure. But through perseverance and sheer guts, she finally tracks down the bad guys to a twisty ending. Based on his novel, this is Mark Burnell’s first and only screenplay, and it shows by the choppy pacing, multiple flashbacks, and extensiveness of all the plot holes, which run amok in the script. Honestly, somebody else should have written the script.

However, in a world full of movies that feature women kicking major butt all the time, it was kinda refreshing to see someone so vulnerable and not adept at what they were doing! Then you had director Reed Morano (Meadowland) squirrelly camera use, bad edits, and awful lighting. His use of hand-held cameras actually made the film worse by comparison! Reed does mostly TV shows like Handmaidens Tale & The Power, so his theatrical technique is limited. But! I’ll give him kudos to a very nice car chase that was done in one take, in-car, and looked about as real as it gets.

This hot mess does manage a small redeeming value, despite the awkwardness of the story, and that’s the actors. Blake Lively really sells this film with her tragic decent into darkness after her family dies. She looks and acts throughout the movie like she’s about to unravel at any moment. Jude Law is her strict Obi-Wan teacher and is very good, while Sterling K. Brown is just there for fun. Raza Jaffrey, for the limited time he has on screen, is quite good as well. This might as well be a showcase for Lively as this movie is about as flat as a pancake.

American Assassin (2017)

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A wanna-be new franchise that never happened, this Jason Bourne/John Wick copycat cousin is about a secret FBI group of rogue assassins called Orion, taking on the dirtiest of jobs in the world. And good ol’ Michael Keaton is there to lead them on, and this time without his Vulture costume on.

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 and desire 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 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 FBI informant, Annika (Shiva Negar).

Finding that weapons-grade 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 tête-à-tête(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 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 (sound familiar?). 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) doesn’t 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.

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