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‘American Assassin’ review: Michael Keaton can’t save action mess

Michael Keaton, center left, is the bright spot

Michael Keaton, center left, is the bright spot in "American Assassin," a convoluted action movie starring Dylan O'Brien, right. Photo Credit: Lionsgate / Christian Black

Directed by Michael Cuesta

Starring Dylan O’Brien, Michael Keaton, Sanaa Lathan

Rated R

The action thriller “American Assassin” jarringly interposes scenes of hyper-realistic violence with the sort of half-hearted storytelling one expects out of a movie of the genre with minimal ambitions.

It makes for an awkward time at the multiplex. The same movie that begins with a terrorist attack on a resort that practically plays as a ripped-from-the-headlines documentary can oversimplify global espionage to the point where protagonist Mitch Rapp (Dylan O’Brien) successfully infiltrates a jihadist cell with apparently little effort and the pursuit of rogue nuclear material becomes little more than fodder for a charisma-free James Bond impression.

Any movie with Michael Keaton in it is not a total loss, of course. Here, he plays a hardened CIA trainer whose primary job is to intimidate O’Brien’s character through whatever means possible, and “American Assassin” works best when it gives the veteran a chance to devour the scenery.

He’s a tough-as-nails, rogue American type — even framed at one point opposite his trusty dog, next to a waving flag, beholding the beauty of Appalachia — and the actor understands that this is all patently ridiculous. Unfortunately, filmmaker Michael Cuesta and O’Brien don’t seem to get it.

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