A B-Movie Thriller From An A-List Action Director

Share on facebook
Facebook
Share on twitter
Twitter
Share on linkedin
LinkedIn
Share on pinterest
Pinterest
Share on pocket
Pocket
Share on whatsapp
WhatsApp
A B-Movie Thriller From An A-List Action Director

A play on genre tropes and a focus on character enlivens Maggie Q., Samuel L. Jackson and Michael Keaton’s playful and satisfying actioner.


As Hollywood becomes further entrenched in IP-specific tentpole filmmaking and are now ever-more determined to hire would-be auteurs, indie darlings and/or “exciting new voices” for their big budget franchise flicks, we’ve seen a small deluge of VOD or barely-in-theaters action movies helmed by some of yesterday’s biggest talents and/or most accomplished action directors. So we get stuff like China’s volcano meltdown flick Skyfire from Simon West, Noomi Rapace’s Unlocked from Michael Apted and a decade’s worth of barely-theatrical (or VOD) action fare from Renny Harlin. Ironically, one of the few times of late a major studio gave a tentpole to a 1990’s vet, you got Jon Turteltaub’s The Meg, which was an old-fashioned crowdpleaser that thrilled audiences of all ages to the tune of $530 million worldwide.

Likewise, I’m still waiting for Stephen Summers, whose G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra essentially played by the crowdpleasing MCU playbook two years before Thor and Captain America made that formula palatable, to get another crack at, well, anything. Odd Thomas, released in 2013, was a long time ago. So it’s not insignificant that Martin Campbell, one of the best “grounded, real-world action” filmmakers of our age, has stayed above water over the last decade. He revived James Bond twice, with GoldenEye in 1995 and Casino Royale in 2006, while giving us The Mask of Zorro in 1998 and, uh, Green Lantern in 2011. He hasn’t made a ton of movies over the last dozen years, and I’d argue the Ryan Reynolds flame-out a decade ago is a major contributor.

Okay, so that was likely a mismatch of director and material, but A) the “grounded” character scenes and real-world action is still pretty solid and B) the film still plays like a sloppy copy first-draft for the likes of Man of Steel, Aquaman and Shazam. While he hasn’t been exceptionally busy since Casino Royale, Mel Gibson’s Heart of Darkness (a strong 2010 remake of Campbell’s 1987 BBC miniseries) Jackie Chan and Pierce Brosnan’s terrific The Foreigner (a 2017 China/Hollywood co-production featuring Chan against type as a vengeful civilian causing chaos after the violent death of his daughter) have allowed him to do what he does best at the theatrical level. Even by these lesser standards, The Protégé feels like a “keep your feet wet” paycheck gig.

The Protégé is being sold as a “Maggie Q. declares war on Michael Keaton to avenge the murder of Samuel L. Jackson” flick, but it’s a little more complicated than that. The film opens with a 1991-set prologue with Jackson finding a rescuing a young Vietnamese girl whose family has just been massacred by criminals. She has apparently already avenged her family’s deaths before hiding in the closet, so the operative decides to raise her as his own and teach her the tools of the trade. 30 years later, Anna and Moody are a highly skilled (and quite expensive) murder-for-hire team, albeit they claim that they only kill folks who deserve it (copious guards and security staff notwithstanding). Right off the bat, the mood is light and the banter is strong.

This is a rare lady assassin flick that isn’t drowning in despair, about its heroine trying to escape the life and/or about its “bad ass” protagonist protecting a child. Those two factors alone set it apart from almost any female assassin movie you can think of. Moody, on his last legs due to an unnamed illness (he’s got a “movie death cough,” which is all you need to know), is the introspective and remorseful one, although some of his monologues about being a righteous assassin who only targets bad guys but knows he too is a villain makes him like the more introspective cousin of Darius Kincaid from The Hitman’s Bodyguard. For reasons best explained by the movie, the first act ends with Moody gunned down in his own bathtub.

Anna isn’t thrilled about this development, and the rest of the film concerns her investigations into the who, what and why of Moody’s death. While the marketing sells Michael Keaton as the primary antagonist, he’s actually a professional stuck in the middle of this chaos as a professional problem solver employed by the bad guys. Since Maggie Q. is gorgeous and Michael Keaton is still a stud at 69 (nice), it’s no surprise that both fancy-pants, trivia-spouting mercenaries take a liking to each other. Rembrandt is more aggressive about the courtship than Anna, although Anna isn’t exactly appalled by the advances. None of this is more than surface deep, but the playful antagonism provides a welcome change of pace from the expected revenge tropes and run-and-gun action.

We get plenty of violence, although honestly much of it feels like a distraction or a commercial obligation alongside the more character-specific scenes which seem where Campbell and writer Richard Wenk’s interests lie. The action we get is, per usual, polished, accomplished, shot and edited for maximum clarity and fully aware of the grim consequences, but it’s also nothing to write home about. Q. has played in this sandbox a few times before (six seasons on CW’s Nikita, for example). As such, The Protégé lacks the “Well, this is different” sensibility of Jackie Chan’s R-rated political revenge in The Foreigner or Mel Gibson’s “one last ride” fatalism in Heart of Darkness. The biggest “difference” is that, again, it’s lighter, looser and less naval-gazing than most hit woman/spy gal pics.

Also helping is that The Protégé doesn’t treat its female protagonist like a #Girlboss statement, instead just telling a story where its lead action hero happens to be a woman. She bounces well off of Jackson, and she has a real spark with Keaton (who gets quite a few moments to flex his and/or his stuntman’s action chops), but it’s the three of them alone that provide 94% of the film’s entertainment value. The film loses some steam in its third act as you realize it has already left most of its cards on the table. The film’s finale barely even tries to offer up a conventional action climax, and while I appreciated the emphasis on conversation over stunt work, the film’s endgame is a little arbitrary and anti-climactic.

Even if the eventual destination leaves a little to be desired, then there’s still plenty of polished pulp to be found in the journey. The Protégé is an old-school studio programmer that thrives on old-fashion star power, a screenplay that’s just twisty enough and set pieces from a man whose faces deserves to be carved alongside (offhand) Cameron, Bay, Singleton, Bigelow, Verhoeven, Woo and McTiernan on the new-wave action movie Mount Rushmore. Sure, a B movie made by A-level talent can sometimes (often?) transcend its limitations, but sometimes you just get a solid little B movie. It was probably a coin toss away from going mostly VOD on the Lionsgate Premiere label, but you’ll get your money’s worth either from a $9 matinee or a $6 rental.

Source link

Share on facebook
Facebook
Share on twitter
Twitter
Share on linkedin
LinkedIn
Share on pinterest
Pinterest
Share on pocket
Pocket
Share on whatsapp
WhatsApp

Never miss any important news. Subscribe to our newsletter.

Recent News

Editor's Pick