Darke Reviews | American Assassin (2017)

I seriously am starting to wonder if people don’t realize they should shut the frak up when a movie is going. There are a whopping 18 people in the theatre which can house 9 times that easy. Old couple in front of me, wife keeps talking to the husband. Two women at the end of the row to my right I had to look across the 6 seats separating us to tell them their voice carries. Three rows behind me, there’s another elderly gentlemen explaining the movie and all the trailers to whomever he is with in stage whispers. This did not start off my movie going experience tonight on the right foot. It’s been a rather stressful time of late and I was hoping for a nice quiet theatre and a mediocre action movie to forget the world for awhile. Which movie? A lot never heard of it, but here’s the trailer:

I suppose the real question now is

Did I forget the world or should the world forget this movie?

In traditional Vampire Princess fashion, I have not read the book by Vince Flynn. The trailer tells me it is a #1 NYT Best Seller. Ok. Sure. So per usual I have no point of reference and get to judge this as a movie. The first thing worth noticing is the early September slot. If August is were movies go to die by the studios, September is where they are buried, and we do not speak of what happens with January movies. It is just…just ..no we do not speak of it.

Seriously the timing of the movie is an indicator of a studios faith. The movie immediately violates my three writer rule, bringing in the work of Marshall Herskovitz (Last Samurai, Great Wall) and Edward Zwick (same credits), Michael Finch (November Man, Predators), and finally Stephen Schiff (The Americans – tv series, True Crime, Lolita). With no research on this whatsoever, my guess is we have Michael Finch adapting another spy novel with passing success like his last work, possibly working with Stephen Schiff who has done some very good things, based on word of mouth, for the Americans series. Herskovitz and Zwick are brought in either before or after Schiff for additional work. My parsing on this is based on the fact the story is fairly solid, but has some leaps of logic only a spy novel can bring, with a final act McGuffin that strains credulity. The characters are only inches away from being mere shadows of a character rather than something more. The character arcs and subplots exist, but the movie doesn’t seem to know what to do with them to tie the bow or tacitly confirm that there is an arc. You can read a lot into a few of the characters motivations once all the pieces are together, but you will doubt if the movie did it on purpose or not.

Beyond the base structure, the movie is your standard spy thriller from the point of inception of a new asset. It dips its toes into xXx territory with the recruitment of a civilian into the life who handles himself as well as multi year trained military. This is part of the movies internal logic you must accept, once you do, the ride is passable. If you can’t accept it you will have issues.

Director Michael Cuesta (TV only, some Dexter, some Homeland) doesn’t do anything new or inventive. That may be to his credit as I don’t think the movie could survive on more. He keeps the camera work and the direction simple. There are of course, unfortunately, quick cuts during some of the hand to hand fight sequences which detracts from the actors weight in the moments but I don’t know if he had a say in that or not. If so shame. If not, well still shame. He doesn’t give me a lot to discuss except for his execution of act three which mostly comes down to ideas bigger than your budget and capabilities. It’s just a solid…huh.

The actors on the other hand own this movie. The camera or the script do them no real favors, with one scene giving Sanaa Lathan’s (AVP, Blade) Irene Kennedy and Dylan O’Brien’s (Teen Wolf, Maze Runner) Mitch Rapp get a full 180 camera flip with each line of dialogue rather than a single medium shot to show them sitting across the table from each other. If you didn’t know better they wouldn’t have had to be in the same room. Thankfully, both of them command what the camera gives them and turn out very strong performances. Unlike Maze Runner though O’Brien doesn’t need to carry the movie on his all too adept shoulders. He gets Lathan and most importantly gets Michael Keaton. We all had the joy of seeing him in Spider-man Homecoming this year as our bad guy. Once again he gets to be a heavy, but on the side of subjective good.  You do not doubt who he is or his character for a moment. His relationship with O’Brien and their on screen presence, physical and charisma, are what drive this movie forward more than the plot. It makes me feel like I am watching a ‘sanctioned’ version of the Mechanic (Bronson version tyvm) and this is a good thing.  Taylor Kitsch (John Carter, Battleship, Wolverine) is in this. He doesn’t do badly.  He doesn’t get enough screen time to really break the curse that his been his career thus far. The last actor to absolutely make their presence known is Shiva Negar as Annika. She reminds me of how Sofia Boutella stole the screen (and our hearts) in Kingsman. She had physicality, charisma of her own and with her co stars, and sold her arc well. I would like to see more of her here in the states.

TL;DR?

This is pleasant pop corn fare. American Assassin spends just the right amount of time on its tap dance of being more than mediocre but not quite being something I could call “Good”. It’s solid, it had me invested. It avoid’s a ‘Murica F*** yeah trope I thought it would hit, but doesn’t get too preachy on the other side. Design or accident I can’t tell. The actors are solid, the story is passable. American Assassin won’t change anyone’s cinematic going world, it won’t win any awards; but it does maintain a very modern approach to the spy genre.

It definitely deserves better than it is getting in the box office, but who could have expected IT to dominate. I think of movies like Columbiana, Hanna, 3 Days to Kill, and it deserves better than these got. Though it could be argued those movies are what killed this genre. It ranks up there with Point of No Return / La Femme Nikita, and the Mechanic with a touch of greats such as Spy Game.

American Assassin could have been better, but I promise you it could have been far far worse than it was. It stays within the guardrails and though it tries once or twice to be more it doesn’t do damage to the genre in it’s effort.

I enjoyed my time with it and at the end of the night isn’t that what movies like this are for? Enjoyment.

Should you see it?

If you were curious yes. I think you will get your monies worth. I think I did.

Will you see it again?

Truth be told, not in theatres, but that is mostly due to other things coming out and limitations of budget and time.

Are you going to buy it?

Yeah I think I am

What’s coming this week we should look for?

Kingsman: The Golden Circle.

Predictions?

A rushed sequel for a movie far better than anyone could have anticipated? If Kingsman was Smokin’ Aces, I think Golden Circle will fare better than the others sequel; but I am not sure it will resonate nearly as well. I am hoping I am wrong though and I fall out of my chair laughing again.

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Darke Reviews | The Maze Runner (2014)

Oh Dystopia how we love thee. Young Adult books you provide us so many to choose from and continue to be a font of these stories for as far as the eyes can read. Now, when I was a little girl we had our own YA novels. I don’t remember these dystopic futures nearly as much then. Maybe I should have read more YA and less King or Barker? I do remember Z for Zachariah, which was a particular favorite of mine. I suppose my generation of 80s kids didn’t need dystopia since we were afraid of being nuked by the ‘Reds’. We actually thought Red Dawn was a possibility as kids. So where does our need for Dystopia vs. Utopia come from? Are we so jaded as a people in the west that we believe the only possible outcome is a total collapse of everything we know? That our generation has pooched things so badly that it will take rebels of a future generation to fix our screw ups and make the world (or what’s left of it a better place?).

I don’t know. I think this is a rant/discussion to come that I hope I can get some folks to weigh in on.

In the meanwhile, we have yet another entry into the YA dystopian future genre. As screenwriters and studios must option any book coming out this one was no exception showing the creative well in Hollywood is running dry whilst the writers continue to do what they do best in the book industry. The James Dashner novel was released in 2009 the book had some critical acclaim and seems to be loved by its fan base. Per the usual, I have not read it. This will be a review based on movie alone. It is worth mentioning the book series is just that a series; specifically a trilogy.

The movie starts down the wrong track immediately as it has the three writers rule in full effect. For those not familiar, the 3+ Writers Rule is something I have noticed where when you begin to add more than two writers to any film the quality of the film degrades. It doesn’t always hold true, but does more often than I should be comfortable with and enough that I noticed it as I wrote these reviews. The writers in question are T.S. Nowlin who has nothing before this and is credited with revisions to the Fantastic Four (2015) film.  Grant Pierce Myers, another first timer to screenwriting and Noah Oppenheim the producer of The Today show (its a news show folks), who also has no writing credits of his own. This is one of those times where I have to think the studio isn’t even trying.  Throwing not one, two , but three inexperienced screenwriters at a YA novel? You do not get another Hunger Games doing that. The two writers there, excluding Collins herself, had a decade in the industry first.

This mish mash of writing styles and just writing made its way to the screen.  This, in addition to a first time director Wes Ball explains why the movie is a general hot mess. It falls into the same trap as so many other YA attempts before it where it doesn’t know its own tone, intent, or characters. You want me to feel they are at risk? Make me care about them. You want me to feel anything? Care. Seriously, I wanted to scream at the screen a few times “FINISH A SENTENCE” or “JUST EXPLAIN WHAT YOU SAID.” These kind of tropes repeat so much in the film it began to get annoying.  I don’t need you to hand answers to *me* on a silver platter. I am a bright girl, I can figure them out. The lack of explanations given in this movie are just lazy. Things exist, but leave me questioning why no one else is questioning or explaining to our protagonist what is going on. It’s like being in the maze does more than wipe your memory but drops your ability to interact on any meaningful level.

They make a huge point of our main character Thomas being curious. Yet, he never seems to ask the questions he should be asking or if he does no one answers. I want to throttle people. Oh sure he has no issue defying rules (like every other YA protagonist), but he does so in such a way he is blindly charging without understanding. I appreciate his curiosity and risk taking. I’d like to think I’d do the same, but I really needed him to tie someone down to get answers before jumping in head first – when answers WERE available to some of the questions.

From an acting standpoint Dylan O’Brien (Stiles from MTVs Teen Wolf…one of the only reasons to watch that show) carries the movie. He does it well. No matter how annoyed I was with the other characters, the writing, or even parts of the story, he was enjoyable to watch. I liked him. I wish I could say the same about the others. The rest played out like Lord of the Flies in a concrete jungle rather than island. Heck, there’s even a pig head in one scene.

Thomas Brodie-Sangster seems to be playing a reincarnation of his Game of Thrones character Jojen Reed. He was sweet, but otherwise really seemed to be playing Jojen again. Will Poulter as Gally plays his stereotype to a T. I swear to all I pray to that at one point he was actually the same kid who played Buzz McAllister in Home Alone. Don’t believe me – check this: Gally vs Buzz. There must be something about that look.

From an FX standpoint, there’s just enough practical to make me miss some of the CG work. The creature designs are a nice new hybrid I don’t recall seeing anything like. The Maze itself is kind of interesting in its layers and levels and was overall enjoyable. Not bad here. The camera work is steady cam with no shaky cam that I recall and good colours as well.

TL:DR?

If you are a fan of the book, you will likely see this movie anyway. Enjoy.

If you are not a fan of the book, I give this movie a solid Meh.

I really didn’t care at the end. It thankfully keeps out any romantic elements, which garners some praise, but otherwise doesn’t really drive me to care who lives or dies. That is sort of a fail and ultimately along with a moment to moment cut style renders the movie only ‘Watchable’ but not “Why are you still reading this and not with your butt in a seat.”

Matinee if you must. Redbox/Netflix if you were curious.

As always, comments welcome. I do encourage people to share their own opinion of the film or notes from their book experience on films. My reviews will be spoiler free, but I make no such promises about comments.