Mitch Rapp just cannot catch a break. Aged 14 he lost both parents in a car crash and then, seven years later, just moments after he proposes to her on an Ibiza beach, his fiancée is gunned down by Islamic terrorists.
The film never settles on a tone.
Picking up with him 18 months later, he’s grieving. We can tell this because he’s grown a beard. He’s angry, too — he’s thrown out of his MMA club for fighting too violently, then out of his gun club for shooting too violently, then he’s reprimanded by his landlord for making noise after 10pm. But this combat training has a purpose. He intends to infiltrate a terrorist cell and murder them in retribution. He’s half successful — during his initiation into the cell a CIA squad burst in and do the killing for him. Impressed with his work (they couldn’t have found the cell without him) they recruit him, sending him off to grizzled, no-nonsense ex-Navy Seal Stan Hurley (Keaton) to be trained properly.
It should be apparent by this point, that American Assassin is beyond ludicrous — the type of film where a gunfight in a hotel room that spills out into the corridors yet somehow fails to be noticed by any of the other guests. What’s unclear is whether everyone involved is in on the joke. Keaton appears to be, spitting out lines such as “The enemy dresses like a deer and kills like a lion, which is what we’ve got to do” with knowing relish, but he may be the only one. The film never settles on a tone, the enjoyable loopiness of the plot punctuated by graphic violence — fingernails are pulled off, knives are driven through throats — that gives the distinct impression that, actually, we are supposed to be taking this seriously.
As the stakes are raised — a rogue operative is discovered to be building a nuclear bomb in a secret location — the elite CIA team become increasingly ineffectual, the only breaks in the case coming when Rapp disobeys orders. Something (luckily for them) he does continually. By the time the jarringly CGI-heavy finale comes, any semblance of reality has been lost. As has its sense of fun.