Blu-Ray Pick of the Week: American Assassin

“Howard Lovecraft and the Undersea Kingdom” is also new to Blu-Ray this week.

There is one thing that is immediately striking about the opening scene of “American Assassin,” which takes place on a beautiful, sandy beach in Spain. This is that the hero of our story, Mitch Rapp (Dylan O'Brien), is a fairly average dude. With this being a mainstream movie, one would naturally expect a super-toned body with well-defined muscles. Not on Mitch. He’s in decent shape and not fat or anything, but he’s not particularly beefy either. Throw in the pale skin and—gasp!—chest hair, and Mitch’s look flies in the face of all of the muscle bound action heroes of recent decades. I like it and it’s refreshing—a great call back to the action heroes of yore, whose manliness relied less on muscle and more on grit and determination.

And oh boy, is Mitch determined. After the peaceful tranquility and happiness of the beach scene is ruined by terrorists with automatic weapons, Mitch’s girlfriend—who became his fiancée minutes earlier—is gunned down. Mitch is shot too, but he survives his wounds. This fundamentally changes him from a happy go lucky regular guy to a man whose life is dedicated to hunting down and killing the terrorists responsible for that fateful day.

Mitch’s single-mindedness lands him in the terrorist camp where he is all set to spring into action—until the CIA arrives and takes out the terrorists before he can. He’s brought to the attention of the deputy CIA director Irene Kennedy (Sanaa Lathan), who thinks he is a good recruit for a counter-terrorism group led by an ex-Navy SEAL named Stan Hurley (Michael Keaton). Hurley is as hard-nosed as they come, and Keaton dials into the performance by playing up the unpredictability of the character. You never know what he’s going to do next to take his recruits by surprise—especially Mitch—in order to make them ready for anything.

The training camp is where Mitch’s ferocity is revealed. He’s a relentless aggressor who will just keep going until his goal is achieved. Mitch is fearless, and has no regard for his own safety. If getting injured or killed in the process of hunting someone down means that the job will get done, then that’s what he’ll do. He’s the kind of guy who is great to have on your side, but a nightmare if you’re competing with him. This doesn’t gain him many friends around the camp, especially amongst the co-trainers whom he shoots up way more than necessary in simulated situations. But it’s hard to argue with the results. Mitch’s instincts are spot on and he will make sure the job gets done—and then some.

This isn’t all good news for Hurley. He knows that Mitch’s determination can be as much of a liability as it is an asset. This knowledge smacks him in the face pretty hard when he gets the news that a former pupil known as Ghost (Taylor Kitsch) is now working with terrorists on a nuclear bomb. Mitch shares a lot of the same qualities as Ghost, and Hurley knows that he has to reign in Mitch or a tragic history may repeat itself.

The second half of “American Assassin” takes place in Turkey as Mitch and Hurley meet up with an agent stationed there named Annika (Shiva Negar) to track down Ghost and stop him. Since this is more of an action spy movie rather than a suspense and intrigue oriented one, the expected shoot outs, car chases, and hand to hand combat scenes ensue. We also get a torture scene that involves a painfully brutal manicure and electrocution. It also provides a visual illustration for anyone confused by the line in “Pulp Fiction” about what exactly can be done with a pair of pliers and blow torch. Hint: It ain’t pleasant.

Even though this isn’t a “who can our hero trust?” type movie, there is a pretty good twist in it that I have to admit I didn’t see coming. In fairness though, this may be because I wasn’t looking for it so I wasn’t expecting it. Instead, I concerned myself with Mitch and how he is going to behave while in the field. That was suspenseful enough for me. Rent it.

More New Releases: “Howard Lovecraft and the Undersea Kingdom,” animated tale in which young Howard travels to the Undersea Kingdom in order to free his captured family, protect three mysterious magical books, and prevent the impending wrath of Cthulhu, featuring the voices of Ron Perlman, Mark Hamill, Christopher Plummer, Jeffrey Combs, Doug Bradley, and Scott McNeil; and “Crucifixion,” about a girl who helps a priest battle a demon.

Andrew Hudak is a lifelong film lover. His column on Blu-Ray new releases appears every Tuesday. He lives in Connecticut.