by Hope Madden
For one of those hired assassin thrillers to work, it helps to have a convincing lead who has chemistry with the bad guy. Martin Campbell’s The Protégé delivers on both fronts.
And yes, in these films story often takes a backseat to fight choreography, writing rides shotgun to action. This also sounds a lot like Campbell’s latest, although it would be more forgivable if the action stood out enough that you could overlook the shortcomings in story.
Maggie Q is protégé assassin Anna, and while her inner conflict never breaks the surface, Q convinces as she moves bewigged from one set piece to the next. Anna’s mission this time is personal, natch, and her soft spot comes from her mentor, played by Samuel L. Jackson.
How is he? Well, he’s, you know, Sam Jackson. He’s exactly Sam Jackson. That works in almost every other movie, and it works just as well here.
But the real shining treasure in The Protégé is Michael Keaton. His talent, charisma, easy charm and natural good humor elevate every scene. Luckily, he’s in a lot of them, so he elevates most of the film.
Campbell (Casino Royale) stages capable though uninspired action sequences. His script, by action veteran Richard Wenk (The Equalizer), can’t tie character motivation to mystery elements to location or conflict. Instead, it stitches together ideas from a smattering of other films with little concern for coherence.
Perhaps this is why Campbell struggles so mightily with tone. This thing swings back and forth between buddy picture and revenge fantasy, international espionage thriller and romance. The bit that generally drives a film like this—you know, when the steely lead finally faces their demons—feels almost coincidental, leaving it no room to resonate.
The Protégé is not a terrible film. At worst it’s just a waste of your time.