Mitch Rapp (Dylan O'Brien) was on holiday with his girlfriend when his life changed forever. At the beach in Ibiza, he proposed to her and she accepted, but as he left the shore to fetch a couple of celebratory drinks, all hell broke loose as a cell of Islamic terrorists opened fire and began shooting everyone in the vicinity. Mitch was hit twice by bullets, and as he tried to reach his new fiancée he was horrified to watch her gunned down, murdered in cold blood while he lost consciousness. Ever since then he planned his revenge, finding out who ordered the attack and travelling to North Africa with a view to assassinating him, but what he didn't know was that he was being closely watched...
The Mitch Rapp novels were bestselling thrillers detailing the hero taking down terrorist after terrorist in pacey prose, so naturally, with Hollywood always on the lookout for another franchise the rights were sold and this movie was the result, ostensibly based on the prequel effort author Vince Flynn penned. However, as the many fans of the text discovered, just because this had his name on it and the title of the work it was based upon did not necessarily mean the filmmakers would stick to the story they were familiar with on the page, and in fact that's what happened: they had bought the book and more or less invented a whole new story as an origin tale for Rapp.
It's still not too clear why popular paperbacks are snapped up by movie studios who then proceed to make up an entirely different plot when they create the film, as it does nothing but irritate the fans, and leave those who have not read them wondering what the fuss was about in the first place, but here we were, in that same position for the umpteenth time. It wasn't a matter of censorship, as this was extremely violent, like a Jason Bourne instalment with the bloodshed amped up in a killing spree, which effectively put off the teenage fans of O'Brien. He was curious casting anyway, as his fanbase was not the same as that of the originals who would likely dismiss him as a lightweight.
Certainly he held his own in the fight scenes, but for all his athleticism he was not the sort of star who was going to appeal to men who liked to relax with paperback thrillers on a military theme; apparently he was not first choice, and you could understand why when you learned the film was rushed into production: presumably they could recast if this was not a hit and they wished to try once again. The new plot played out as Young Bourne, imagining a Bourne-like character from before he lost his bearings and faith in the American spy agencies and went rogue, therefore here Rapp was a loose cannon, but remained under the thumb of the authorities since they were on his side all the way, no matter that he went off on his own little whims every so often. His vengeance issues were solved within the first act.
This left him to be trained by Michael Keaton, playing know-it-all Stan Hurley who gives he and his fellow students various rules to be governed by when in the field that Rapp can ignore at his discretion. Although Islamic terrorism was a major news story of the twenty-first century, it was unusual for a Hollywood movie to tackle it, preferring some James Bond-style network of baddies, or a Baader-Meinhof-inspired gang of white troublemakers, yet here Rapp mowed down and beat up an array of brown-skinned villains until the movie got cold feet and had its big baddie be a rogue agent trained in America by the same agency who tutored our hero, therefore shifting the blame for fundamentalist atrocities back on the West. It takes two to tango, one supposes, but this was an overused cliché in this era's action flicks, and has been ever since actual Bond entry Goldeneye, simply one more example of American Assassin's lack of imagination. With every scene approached the same way, it was monotonous and as you didn't care about the lead, none too engrossing either. Music by Steven Price.