When it comes to lasting impressions, American Assassin pulls off quite the hat trick. It’s very predictable and hopelessly derivative, but still manages to be a good time. For that, you can thank an overachieving cast and director.

This is based on the Mitch Rapp series of books written by Vince Flynn, a one-time aspiring Marine who also consulted on the TV series 24. Specifically, the movie is an adaptation of the novel American Assassin (duh), which explores Rapp’s origin story.

In the beginning, he’s a fresh-faced young kid (played by Dylan O’Brien), enjoying a vacation with his fiancé in Spain. They’re newly engaged, recording every second of their bliss on a phone. Predictably, the happiness is short-lived when jihadist terrorists storm the beach, killing numerous people.

Mitch’s girlfriend is among them, and because he needs to be Incredibly Tortured by Something, she’s killed (and double tapped!) right in front of him. Great way to celebrate an engagement.

After eighteen months of Obviously Vengeful Rage (complete with an edgy beard), Rapp thinks he’s found the terrorists by communicating with them on a message board. Getting to the terrorist cell isn’t easy; he had to memorize numerous facts about Islam, as  well as learn how to speak Arabic. With his newly buff body and Mixed Martial Arts training, Rapp is ready to kill them all.

Truth be told, I just described about any montage in a revenge-driven picture. There’s nothing shocking about seeing Mitch transformed into a vengeful, even insane, killing machine. But director Michael Cuesta (Kill the Messenger, another political thriller) knows how to make the cliché effective. It’s a theme that’s gonna repeat throughout American Assassin.

Mitch gets his meeting, but U.S. Special Forces ambush the group and kill everyone (including the terrorist that murdered his girlfriend) except him. Logically, this should be the end of the story because a guy that someone wanted dead dies, but then we wouldn’t have a movie, would we dear reader?

Mitch is offered an opportunity to by CIA Deputy Director Irene Kennedy (Sanaa Lathan) to train under former Navy Seal Stan Hurley (Michael Keaton) and join a black ops group. Driven apparently by the need for more vengeance (?), Rapp accepts. Hurley thinks he’s Too Dangerous to Train, but Kennedy makes him take Mitch in.

The training is grueling as all hell, both physically and mentally. In addition to kicking his ass, Hurley tortures Rapp by replaying the video of the beach attack, double-tap and all. Predictably, Mitch doesn’t respond well to this.

Keaton goes full-on psycho here, like someone took his jaded villain from Spider-Man: Homecoming and injected it with the personality of Glenn Beck. Despite probably being way too old for the role (he’s 65), I believed that he could still beat on people some 30-40 years younger than him.

The black-ops boot camp serves a purpose, which is to prepare Rapp and others for a trip overseas to hunt a terrorist by the name of “Ghost” (Taylor Kitsch). He’s looking to make a nuke and launch it for reasons that become painfully apparent once you learn about his own Tortured Backstory. Without spoiling it, I’ll just say that it involves Hurley.

Oh screw that, a blind monkey connect the dots. What do you think it is? He trained under Hurley just like Rapp, and has harbored vengeance ever since he was captured and his mentor didn’t rescue him. Teenagers could’ve written a back-story like that.

In fact, my girlfriend and I spent of American Assassin‘s 111-minute runtime correctly predicting what would happen next. Does this mean we’d be perfect fits for writing Hollywood movies?

Okay, so it sounds like I kinda hated this exercise in creating the most generic spy movie possible – but in fact it’s the opposite! American Assassin isn’t Oscar-worthy, but it’s a fun, tense ride anchored by a set of great performances (O’Brien, Keaton, Kitsch), even if the logic gets a little twisted toward the end.

O’Brien doesn’t do any truly great acting here, but the heartthrob combines cockiness with an inner rage to be effective enough as Rapp. Another Teen Wolf this is not.

Kitsch is still recovering from an unfortunate series of flops five years ago (John CarterBattleshipSavages), but continues to fill his acting resume with quality, hard-charging supporting roles like this one. He deserves another shot at big Hollywood stardom.

Perhaps the only real surprise is how violent American Assassin really is. Maybe the casting of O’Brien lured me into thinking it was gonna be Bourne-lite, but the opening beach slaughter changed my assumption quick. Characters get brutally shot, stabbed in the neck and nearly drowned in the bath tub in a matter-of-fact way that shows just what espionage can really be all about.

But the surprising carnage keeps a stale story fresh, proving that a well-excuted formula is still entertaining even when you’ve seen it a thousand times before.

There’s nothing you wouldn’t find in most a Jason Bourne movie, but that’s not the point. Like any good spy, American Assassin comes in and does the job it’s expected to do. It’s something you don’t really appreciate till the film is over.

Published by Jagger Czajka