By John Messer

Minor spoilers follow for “American Assassin”.

Michael Cuesta’s “American Assassin” released this weekend to little fanfare and even less critical praise.

The movie maintains a run-of-the-mill military thriller plot, and action scenes that are equal parts lazy Jason Bourne and store-brand Jack Reacher. Budget cuts are noticeable in places. Story points are often threadbare. Conflicts are just sort of there without reason.

"American Assassin" image

“American Assassin” is based off the 2010 novel by Vince Flynn. (Source: Vimeo)

Despite all these things, in a way I doubt the filmmakers intended, I did have a few reasons to enjoy the film.

As mentioned, the film is competent but not creative. Everything works, nothing is pointedly broken and most performances are done well, save for the CIA deputy director played by Sanaa Lathan. It’s hard to tell if this is a weak performance or just weak writing.

Regardless of its mediocrity, this critic found enjoyment to be had simply by relishing in the absurdity of just how generic it is.

The very first scene is played up perfectly, with the handsome Mitch Rapp, played by Dylan O’Brien, enjoying a vacation with his attractive girlfriend in skimpy clothing. He proposes, she agrees, and just as he’s getting celebratory drinks, terrorists inexplicably appear and gun down dozens of civilians, including his fiance.

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Dylan O’Brien plays Mitch Rapp. (Source: Vimeo)

The sheer absurdity of such perfectly manufactured drama and the immediate attempt to snatch at audience sympathy for the protagonist is extremely entertaining. Every few minutes a scene reaching a similar caliber of generic critical mass appears, much to undeserved giggles from me.

However, there are a few other reasons to ironically enjoy this film beyond taking a dark interest in laughing at its triumph of genericness. For instance, there is a CGI army helicopter that’s quite jarring to see, and instead of stock footage for the U.S. Navy fleet, they render that in CGI as well.

Further though, some action moments also stand out as entertaining, such as when Rapp defeats a goon by breaking the henchman’s arm so badly that his tibia is jutting out, and Rapp then stabs him in the chest with the exposed bone. Later, Rapp off-screen apparently climbs the side of a skyscraper and manages to enter the building via a window that somehow can be opened. These scenes are entertaining on a fundamental level, though probably not for the intended reasons.

Dylen O'Brien image

Some action scenes are enjoyable in a ridiculous way. (Source: Vimeo)

By far though, the very best thing in this movie is Michael Keaton as Stan Hurley, Rapp’s rugged mentor. Same as everyone else, he has little to work with in terms of script and direction, but he works the heck out of what he has. (At this time it may be important to note this film, based on a novel, had four different writers, which essentially means it was written five times.) Particularly the scene in which Hurley is being tortured is easily the best in the entire movie.

In summation, “American Assassin” is a bland movie with little creativity. Then again, it has little pretense to being anything else, which is somehow refreshing. I don’t like to give numbers on film quality, as I find it to be very nuanced, but in sheer enjoyment I had watching it, I’d say “5/10”.

Be warned though, much of that enjoyment was for reasons unintended by the filmmakers.

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