A Film Review by Tim Riley

AMERICAN ASSASSIN (Rated R) The late Vince Flynn, author of political action thrillers, produced a series of exciting novels about CIA counter-terrorism agent Mitch Rapp, a killing machine with an insatiable appetite to take down the bad guys.

American Assassin” is the first adaptation of a Flynn thriller, and if Dylan O’Brien’s work as the screen version of Mitch Rapp is a success, it’s quite possible for a new action hero to emerge in the mold of Jason Bourne.

The film opens with Mitch on a beach in Ibiza with his pretty girlfriend Katrina (Charlotte Vega) to whom he proposes marriage as they gambol in the calm ocean water. But all hell breaks loose when the resort is invaded by gun-toting terrorists.

While Mitch is fetching some celebratory cocktails, the obvious Middle Eastern terrorists open machine-gun fire, randomly killing dozens of tourists in a vicious attack. Sadly, Katrina is viciously gunned down in front of his very eyes.

Flash forward to eighteen months later, and Mitch so fervently trains for revenge that his excessive force on sparring partners at the local gym result in his expulsion. His fierce determination attracts notice from CIA deputy director Irene Kennedy (Sanaa Latham).

The agency keeps a watchful eye on Mitch’s every move, knowing that his new-found proficiency in the martial arts and handling deadly weapons along with Arabic language skills have the makings of a covert ops agent.

Mitch proves his psychological profile of a loner with the aptitude to make him a killing machine when he infiltrates the Libyan terrorist cell run by Al-Mansur (Shahid Ahmed), the group that carried out the murder spree at the Ibiza beach resort.

Though deemed unreliable and a dangerous loose cannon by CIA Director Stansfield (David Suchet), Mitch’s instinctive talent for revenge is found to be a worthy quality to be explored by Irene Kennedy, the CIA’s counter-terrorism chief.

Mitch is soon thereafter whisked away blindfolded to a remote location in the Virginia woods for training as a fighting force under the direction of hardened Cold War veteran Stan Hurley (Michael Keaton), whose repeated mantra is not to make any mission personal.

But for Mitch, it’s all about getting revenge on the type of bad guys who do harm to innocents like Katrina, and if anything, he wants to avenge the wrongful deaths of those who just happen to be in the proverbial wrong place. Just think of the many attacks in Europe in recent times.

While Mitch’s training may be a work in progress, an urgent situation requires the trainee and a fellow recruit named Victor (Scott Adkins) to team up with Hurley and Turkist agent Annika (Shiva Negar) to recover plutonium that could end up in the wrong hands.

The setting of Istanbul creates the veil of mystery that surrounds the geopolitical underpinnings of renegade Iranian officials meeting with an arms dealer so that a hired-gun physicist can create a nuclear weapon for a truly deranged mercenary.

The mercenary in question goes by the nickname of Ghost (Taylor Kitsch), an American operative turned traitor who had been trained by Hurley but went over to the dark side as some sort of twisted vengeful act for a perceived betrayal during a previous mission.

It seems almost standard in the Jason Bourne and James Bond films to move around numerous foreign locales, and “American Assassin” is no different as Hurley’s team ends up skipping through various European cities wreaking havoc in public areas that could complicate the mission.

As the action shifts to the scenic city of Rome, there is little time to admire the beautiful fountain plazas before the team discovers the bad guys are holed up in an underground bunker beneath a depressing housing project.

At last, the lair of the Ghost has been found, where the nuclear device is being finalized for an imminent attack upon the U.S. Sixth Fleet on maneuvers in the Mediterranean seas.

Getting to the point of Hurley and his crew confronting the Ghost requires navigating through action scenes that include expected car chases and an extensive fight scene in a fancy hotel suite, as well as dealing with double-crosses and various forms of serious jeopardy.

There is an extended, hard-to-watch torture incident where one of the good guys is brutally harmed by the ruthlessly vicious Ghost, which only serves to deepen our collective wish for his early and painful demise.

The climactic showdown takes place on the sea, involving hand-to-hand combat on a speedboat, a daring helicopter rescue and a frantic effort to save the Sixth Fleet from a nuclear explosion aimed in their direction.

Though “American Assassin” touches a nerve for real world possibilities, this hard-boiled thriller has created a new action hero, and the intensity and excitement of the action on display suggests not only the possibility of a sequel but a fervent wish that it may be so.

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