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HiT Reviews: ‘American Assassin,’ ‘mother!’

Four years after Vince Flynn’s death his iconic hero has a movie to call his own.

The author’s Mitch Rapp character fought terrorists without hand-wringing, endearing him to a legion of fans. It also renders him “problematic” to modern Hollywood.

The former spirit still permeates “American Assassin,” a film which bows to political correctness without losing sight of why Mitch Rapp matters.

Dylan O’Brien of “Teen Wolf” fame plays Mitch Rapp, first seen proposing to his gorgeous girlfriend (Charlotte Vega).

Within minutes the beach where the carefree couple cement their bond is under attack. Terrorists gun down vacationers, including Mitch’s love, in a sequence as brutal as any you’ll witness this year.

Or next.

We flash forward 18 months, and Mitch is a different soul. His body is hardened like his heart, and he’s enmeshed in a training program led by CIA Deputy Director Irene Kennedy (Sanaa Lathan). She’s ready to take advantage of his emerging skills to fight terrorists. To fully commit, though, Mitch must enlist in an unconventional boot camp run by Stan Hurley (Michael Keaton).

Our Mitch is a proverbial lethal weapon, but one who refuses to follow commands. That’s clear when he enters his first assignment, one that will lead him to a Hurley protege packing a nuclear-powered grudge.

Any project depicting Islamic terror has its hands full from groups like CAIR and your average Social Justice Warrior. So how does “American Assassin” thread that PC needle? Meet Ghost, played by white actor Taylor Kitsch. This Ghost serves a key function in the story that shouldn’t surprise savvy Hollywood observers.

Let the groaning commence.

You’ll also wince at what passes for dialogue throughout “American Assassin.” It’s a cocktail of clunky metaphors, needless profanity and head-scratching exchanges.

Mid-film, Mitch shares a tender moment with a female operative. It’s the kind of banter that could lead to a kiss or something more dramatic. Instead, she ends it by saying, “now, let’s go kill those [expletives].” It’s laugh out loud bad.

Yet “American Assassin” packs steel in its storytelling spine. The action sequences pack snap and purpose, and O’Brien is convincing killer despite his baby face. You could see the actor growing into the role if:

A: “American Assassin” justifies its modest $40 million budget at the box office.

B. The screenwriters flesh out his character beyond his zest for revenge.

Keaton is, well, Keaton. That means he generates the kind of gravitas a franchise starter craves. He suffers from the dialogue as much as anyone, but he never lets us see him sweat.

That’s movie star magic.

RELATED: ‘X-Files’ Calls Out Islamic Terrorism without Apology

O’Brien and Keaton have genuine chemistry, a bond that papers over the film’s recycled story elements.

Mitch Rapp is no Jason Bourne yet, let alone James Bond. Nurture him properly, though, and he could be an antidote to Hollywood’s tentative take on terrorism.

HiT or Miss: “American Assassin” feels too familiar above and beyond its hero’s laser focus on modern-day terrorism. The latter, plus a fiery turn by Michael Keaton, is enough to recommend it.

MOTHER!

“mother!” might be the perfect encapsulation of Hollywood’s rage against the usual suspects.

  • The patriarchy (even though the industry’s sexism is alive and well)
  • Climate change (even though many stars have huge carbon footprints)
  • President Trump (even though celebrities hurt their own cause with their obnoxious electioneering)

“mother!” overdoses on its own anger. Overwrought, punishing and dull, director Darren Aronofsky essentially boiled down his therapy sessions into a theatrical experience. And guess who has to pay for it?

Jennifer Lawrence is Mother, the unnamed wife of Him (Javier Bardem), a celebrated poet. Is your Pretension Meter hitting red already?

Just wait.

They live in a gorgeous home which Mother personally renovated, panel by panel. They’re isolated but happy, at least when Him isn’t condescending to Mother like she’s a floppy-eared pet. It’s the first of many moments shrieking against the Patriarchy.

He’s grappling with writer’s block, and she walks gingerly around the house hoping not to distract him from his next creative streak. Assuming it will ever arrive.

RELATED: Jennifer Lawrence’s Predictable Transformation

Their routine is shattered when a doctor known as “Man” (Ed Harris) knocks on their door. Him lets the Man in, which sets off a chain reaction of visitors, wildly missed social cues and mounting chaos.

Mother is instantly distracted, woozy even. She hears loud piercing sounds. She stumbles to the bathroom for some odd, powdery medication. Something is seriously wrong. She can feel it.

Aronofsky has us off balance for a while, too. He’s no hack, given grand credits like “Black Swan” and “The Wrestler.” It’s instantly clear he’s pushing too hard, too fast, though. What follows is a predictable pattern of mania and calm, leading to a chaotic third act that will bore even horror purists.

Michelle Pfeiffer registers as the doctor’s wife (or “Woman” as the credits read). Her character pries into Mother’s sex life and delivers open-mouth kisses to Harris regardless of who’s watching. Woman, like every other in the film, bears little relation to actual people. It’s all stylized and surreal, with Mother serving as the only sane soul.

Or is she?

You won’t care by the midway point. Aronofsky has deadened our senses by then, and he’s got plenty of orchestrated madness still to come.

The story seemingly slams fame, organized religion and our short-sighted nature as humans. Mother is always there for us, but we treat her like an afterthought. We’ll soon be sorry.

Cue Al Gore.

It’s hard to fully convey the violence seeping into every corner of the third act. Some visuals stick, like floorboards that fester like an untreated wound. The house itself is glorious to behold, which makes its destruction more than simply unpleasant.

And that’s the point. We’re destroying Mother Earth, a lecture delivered by stars with carbon footprints far greater than those unfortunate audience members.

Aronofsky can rage against pollution all he likes. It’s his bully pulpit, after all. What we deserve is to be entertained, or given concepts to mull over after the end credits wrap. He comes up empty here despite all the noise. And boy, is “mother!’ noisy.

FAST FACT: Jennifer Lawrence tore her diaphragm during the making of “mother!”

Every metaphor arrives with a screech and leaves with a roar. The sound design team worked overtime to capture it all, from the eruptions that rattle Mother to the war-like third act.

The camera keeps a close eye on the film’s star throughout. We see stark closeups of Lawrence, who shuffles about the house in clingy clothes and bare feet. Aronofsky stalks her like a jilted lover, giving us a claustrophobic sense of what’s to come.

Her performance is as grounded as any could be in this maelstrom. She holds it together much longer than most. Both she and Bardem bring charisma to burn, but “mother!” slowly but surely squanders every last drop before the dispiriting finale.

So what does it all mean? Aronofsky might have all the answers. Or, the audience’s interpretation may be equally sound. What matters here is the experience itself. There’s little question “mother!” is an unqualified mess.

HiT or Miss: “mother!” will make you flinch and yawn more than anything else.

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5 Comments

  1. These two movies provide an interesting demonstration of the depth of the disconnect between Hollywood and the rest of the population. One needs only to go to Rotten Tomatoes and compare the polarity of the critics score (Hollywood insiders) and the audience score (normal humans). American Assassin – Critics 37% Humans 71%. Mother – Critics 71% Humans 49%. The problem for Hollywood is Critics see the movie for free whilst Humans shell out cash for the privilege. BS talks Money walks.

  2. Does the film rails against the same patriarchy that cast 26 year old Jennifer Lawrence as 48 year old Javier Bardem’s wife? I’m sure it’s just a coincidence, the age difference, thed camera-stalking and the fact that Aranofsky is now dating Lawrence.

    1. The same “Patriarchy” that made Lawrence a multi-millionaire in her early ’20s. I’d love to be the victim of that kind of oppression.

  3. “mother!” sounds God-awful. Thanks for your sane review and sorry you had to take the bullet for the rest of us. The studios need to bring back the “Studio System” that prevented moronic actors/directors from lip-ing off and pissing off greater than half the country. Great way to bankrupt your industry, geniuses.

  4. The most cogent interpretation I’ve seen of the movie is that the house represents Earth, the Mother represents Gaia, her husband represents the Christian God, and the people that invade their home represent humanity. Thus the film’s events are a twisted retelling of the Bible. Gonna give it a hard pass. Based on what I’ve read, it reminds me of Lars Von Trier’s god-awful “Dogville”, one of the worst theater experiences of my life.

    This is the kind of pretentious, worthless arthouse film that was edgy back in the ’90s, but now comes off as just boring.

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