The Protégé Synopsis: Rescued as a child by the legendary assassin Moody (Samuel L. Jackson), Anna (Maggie Q) is the world’s most skilled contract killer. However, when Moody gets killed, she vows revenge for the man who taught her everything she knows.
Lean-and-mean actioners are a rarity in today’s theatrical marketplace. The subgenre was a beloved staple since the ’80s, with distinctive stars often carrying the action and storytelling weight of their by-the-numbers material. Now, most straightforward action films are fated to unfaithful streaming releases. Even box-office staples like Liam Neeson, Michael B. Jordan, and Chris Pratt can’t escape the everchanging tides.
The lack of theatrical actioners makes Martin Campbell’s latest The Protégé a refreshing blast of nostalgia. Pairing Campbell – the beloved architect behind two of the best James Bond films (Casino Royale and GoldenEye) – with three dynamics stars seems like a great foundation. Unfortunately, the film’s non-starter screenplay derails it at every turn.
To The Protégé’s credit, Campbell spins a brisk and highly-watchable yarn. His poised precision behind the camera elevates a series of boilerplate setpieces. The lack of over-used techniques, like shaky cam and quick edits, works wonders in shedding the tackiness of today’s over-produced efforts. I was also charmed by the film’s trio of stars. Maggie Q carries the gravity and smooth swagger of a bonafide action star, oftentimes commanding the screen despite her one-note role. Michael Keaton delivers a wicked perkiness to his role as a rival hitman, while Samuel L. Jackson provides his usual spark in his limited appearances.
I admire The Protégé’s throwback sensibility – it’s a move studios don’t embrace enough in a world run by oversaturated blockbusters. However, inert execution creates more of a bargain bin imitation. Richard Wenk’s screenplay offers a few glimpses of cheeky subversion (a dinner scene where characters describe their guns like wine earned some laughs), but the majority coasts through a wave of uninteresting cliches. From the tired revenge plotline to the overabundance of filler plot mechanics, the screen remains busy without defining a level of attachment.
Even with the cast sparking some vitality into the proceedings, none of the characters develop past the genre’s familiar archetypes. The script doesn’t even know what it wants to do with these characters at points, introducing random backstory that’s never touched on in meaningful ways. I understand action films of this ilk don’t need innovation. Most films subvert their routine plotlines through intricate plotting or developing a distinct personality. Campbell’s film is too content going through the motions to draw a real impression.
The Protégé, despite its competence, is about as vanilla as it gets for the genre.
The Protégé opens in theaters on August 20th.
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