Mel Brooks once told Jerry Seinfeld some years ago that he liked to eat dinner with Carl Reiner once a week and watch what he called “secure the perimeter movies,” meaning the kind of movies where at some point someone would utter the line “Secure the perimeter.” Two of the greatest comedic minds of all time love bad action movies. We’re in good company, folks.
Have no doubts. Despite the line never being said, American Assassin is a Secure the Perimeter movie. Sure, it had a budget around $30 million and stars some famous people, but it is still what it is. I didn’t see this when it came out in theaters. In fact, the only reason it came to my attention was because my wife spotted David Suchet in the cast and is a massive fan of his portrayal of fictional detective Hercule Poirot. So one rainy November day, we sat down to watch this as part of a larger action movie marathon.
Before we get to the brass tacks of the picture though, I want to take a moment for an aside: I’m not a fan of the Mitch Rapp book series, upon which this movie is based. I don’t mean that to say I dislike them, just that I have never read any of Flynn’s work and cannot judge them one way or the other. This movie was dedicated to their author, Vince Flynn, who unfortunately passed away in 2013 from prostate cancer. All of this is to say that cancer sucks ass, I don’t know if the books are anything like this movie, and Flynn did get a boat named after him in the film. Yes, this is all vital information, I know.
Mitch Flagg is a troubled young man. His fiancée is murdered right in front of his eyes by Islamic terrorists about three minutes after he proposed. He then spends the next year and a half getting kicked out of MMA gyms, getting kicked out of gun ranges, and apparently getting kicked out of the barber’s shop based on the scraggly hairdo he’s got going on. He dedicates his life to hunting down the terrorists who killed his lady love, only when he gets there, it turns out the CIA has at least been monitoring his progress so they can bust in and take down the same terror cell. Unsure of what to do, they then recruit Mitch, an obviously homicidal and mentally unstable young man, into a black ops team run by Michael Keaton and send him out to stop dangerous foreign elements from getting a nuclear weapon. Because that all sounds like a good idea.
Well..the Michael Keaton part actually does. He could lead CIA hit teams any time. The man is a national treasure.
Yes, the crazy guy gets highly trained using knife fights in the woods, puke-worthy VR programs, and IKEA sets to hunt for terrorists, because we all know how much the terrorists love to hide out in IKEA. In all fairness, the Swedish meatballs there really are that good. Then we send him after a nuclear weapon, because there wasn’t something low stakes like a drug cartel or something we could take down instead. So Mitch now finds himself fighting Iranian double agents, the mafia, and an American mercenary and former CIA black ops soldier named Ghost who has a real hard on for hating the US Navy and Michael Keaton. That’s right, Ghost, because all the good code names were taken.
The movie ends with Mitch detonating a nuke underwater, and everyone cheers that the US 6th Naval Fleet only sustained relatively light damage for having been next to a nuclear blast. Nobody worries about the long term ecological effects on the sea life, of course, but hey, go USA. And then Mitch goes rogue to kill another Iranian, because of course he does, the guy is a freaking nut job. Who thought this was a good idea?
Imagine, if you will, a Jason Bourne movie. Now instead of Matt Damon, imagine that Jason Bourne was a young kid with a patchy beard who spends all his time starring straight ahead while most likely deeply contemplating the hidden meanings of Linkin Park song lyrics, because that is Mitch. He’s played by Dylan O’Brien, who gets the intensity of the character but never quite gets the charisma that the audience needs to actually, I don’t know, root for the hero. Instead, I am seriously questioning the CIA’s hiring practices, because holy crap, this dude is in need of some serious therapy.
One thing I do appreciate about this movie is that it isn’t just straight up Islamic terrorists at least. We also get an American merc, Italian mobsters in truly spectacularly bad outfits, a splinter group of militant Iranian defense officials with a real passion for nuking Israel, and also a Turkish arms dealer tossed in the mix for good measure. Oh, and we get to see Michael Keaton’s fingernails ripped out in graphic detail, because if there is anything I really needed out of my day, it was to see a pair of pliers used to separate portions of Michael Keaton’s body that I really didn’t want to see get separated. Come on, guys, national treasure!
We also get a fantastic case of death boobs here. What are death boobs? It’s that thing where a woman shows up in a movie solely to show her boobs and then die. I realize there is likely a better term that someone has come up with to represent this, but it’s still a thing, and this poor lady provides us an ample look at her bountiful chest before bullets rip through her body. The movie then takes a few moments to silently ponder the nature of this heavily misogynistic moment and really examines the tragedy that is the objectification of the female body and the heavy weight of gun violence and sexualized assault as a tool for gratifying the male psyche in terms of entertainment. Just kidding, it’s in the middle of a gun fight! She’s totally left dead and forgotten on the ground just because she was there.
American Assassin is a movie that exists, and it had a budget, but it’s not a good movie. It’s a “why didn’t Cannon Films make this” kind of movie. It’s a “this would have been better with Dolph Lundgren” kind of movie. I salute you now, American Assassin, because in three days I will forget that I watched you.