REVIEW: “The Protégé” (2021)

When gazing over the cinema landscape it’s hard to find anything more en vogue right now than assassins. Movies featuring assassins are nothing new, but they got a boost with the immensely popular John Wick franchise. Now they’re everywhere. And female assassins are especially popular. Just recently we had “Anna”, “Ava” and even one called “Kate” coming later this year. Oh, and then there’s “Gunpowder Milkshake”, but its title doesn’t quite fit with the others.

Next up is “The Protégé”, the Maggie Q led action thriller with a couple of other big names attached – Michael Keaton and Samuel L. Jackson. It’s a slick and stylishly made genre film that incorporates countless assassin movie tropes into its story. There’s the traumatic past event that led to the lead character becoming an assassin. There’s the quiet yearning for a normal life. There’s the violent act that sends the assassin hunting for revenge. And of course, there’s the bloody showdown where the assassin’s particular set of skills are unleashed.

“The Protégé” comes from director Martin Campbell whose résumé has its share of hits (topped by 2006’s stellar “Casino Royale”) and a few misses (sorry “Green Lantern”). Here he’s working from a script by Richard Wenk who penned the two Denzel Washington “Equalizer” movies. Both are well-versed in the action genre and for the most part stick to what they know. But there are a handful of fun and flashy flourishes that keep the otherwise buy-the-books story entertaining.

Image Courtesy of Lionsgate

Maggie Q plays the film’s protagonist Anna. She enjoys cooking, owns an antique book store, and loves hanging out with her mentor and second father Moody (Jackson). Oh, and she’s also a lethal assassin who earns a good living killing really bad people. She’s really good at her job and Q never leaves us in doubt.

A new contract puts Anna and Moody in the crosshairs of a powerful black market broker played by David Rintoul. Moody is brutally murdered which sends Anna on a revenge-fueled hunt to find and take out her friend’s killer. Along the way she encounters a charismatic hitman named Michael Rembrandt (Keaton, always good). He’s been sent to stop her but the two engage in this weird cat-and-mouse game that’s part seduction and part murder.

Campbell’s globetrotting bullet-riddled adventure bounces from Vietnam to Romania to London and then back to Vietnam, all as Anna tries to track down the person who ordered the hit on Moody. She plows through a plethora of low-level hoodlums in an assortment of high-energy sequences that highlight Q as a legitimate action star. Even Keaton who’s pushing 70 gets to let loose in a couple of well shot and we’ll edited fight scenes. And while their relationship doesn’t always make sense, each time Q and Keaton come together, whether it’s to play mind games or tear each other apart with their unbridled physicality, it’s quite a treat.

Image Courtesy of Lionsgate

While Robert Patrick showing up as the thinly-sketched leader of a biker gang doesn’t quite pop, most of the other character work is good. I’ve talked about Q and Keaton, but there’s also some good supporting work from Jackson. It’s the kind of role the 72-year-old screen veteran can do in his sleep, but he’s a good presence and always worth a few laughs. Of the three main characters his storyline is the biggest headscratcher, but Jackson is rock solid.

The storytelling isn’t quite as polished. The main plot-line is pretty straightforward and done well enough. But as these types of movies often do, it tends to stray at times, with characters venturing off in search of a clue here or a particular person of interest there. In this case it’s not always easy to follow what the characters are doing in large part because there is a vagueness to some of its details that can make things a little hazy.

Despite its shortcomings, “The Protégé” makes for a palatable action movie as well as a fairly entertaining new entry into the growing assassin sub-genre. It’ll never win over anyone with its originality and its story occasionally wanders off into some needless directions. But Maggie Q is a great lead, Michael Keaton is his normal wily self and Samuel L. Jackson is as sturdy as ever. The movie is worth watching for that star power alone.

VERDICT – 3 STARS

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