'American Assassin'- water scenes excel

Sometimes the name behind the movie says it all.  That’s why I was excited to see Michael Cuesta’s “American Assassin,” a film that gives Michael Keaton a shot at being an action hero in the Liam Neeson vein.

Cuesta did a great job with the Jeremy Renner-led true-life tale “Kill the Messenger” in 2014 so I was looking forward to seeing this one.

The lead in “American Assassin” is Dylan O’Brien as Mitch Rapp, who witnesses his fiancée’s demise on a beach during their vacation.  His character reports to Keaton, government higher-up Stan Hurley, who still has some pull due to his success on past missions.

The film works because the audience feels a kinship with Rapp who, for all intents and purposes, just wants vengeance for the death of his fiancée.  Rapp risks it all to see his fiancée’s killers perish by extreme prejudice.

Keaton, coming off the film “Spotlight” as part of an ensemble cast, brings a certain gravitas to his character Hurley.  His motivations are just right, even when he faces torture by Taylor Kitsch’s malevolent ghost persona.  Hurley just shrugs it off because he taught the ghost everything he knew.

It was weird seeing Kitsch in the antagonist’s role since he played heroes in a number of previous flicks including “Battleship,” director Peter Berg’s guilty pleasure and fiasco of a film. Kitsch also appeared in Oliver Stone’s action-drama “Savages” in which he shared great chemistry opposite Blake Lively and Aaron Taylor-Johnson.  Lest we forget “John Carter,” the Kitsch vehicle that cost Touchstone Pictures a healthy bit of change, which features a plutonium-inspired subplot that actually makes a water sequence plausible in the suspense department.

As I have said previously, the studios have not found a way to make water sequences suspenseful in the very least.  The only water entries worthy of mention are Steven Spielberg’s classic “Jaws” and the clichéd disaster movie “The Poseidon Adventure.”  Everything else is “so-so” in my book.

Also important to the plot is Sanaa Lathan. She portrays Irene Kennedy, Lathan’s boss.  Lathan shares some good scenes with Keaton. Their banter adds a nice little tidbit to the film.

“American Assassin” is not a must-see by any means, but it is worth a theater experience. The water action makes it worthwhile.

Grade:  B