Samuel L. Jackson and Maggie Q in The Protégé.
Photograph: Jichici Raul/Lionsgate/Jichici Raul/Lionsgate

Martin Campbell made three of the nice tentpole motion movies of the previous 30 years — GoldenEye, On line casino Royale, and The Masks of Zorro — together with a number of different fairly good ones, so any new launch from him ought to be price celebrating. And The Protégé feels proper for his abilities: It’s a revenge film with tons of hand-to-hand fight and gunplay, crammed with the type of stunt-driven, cleanly directed mayhem that has been his forte for many of his profession.

So why does the film so typically fall so flat? The story, whereas completely generic, appears to have sufficient emotional juice to maintain us . Anna (Maggie Q) is an professional worldwide tracker and murderer who works with fellow killer Moody Dutton (Samuel L. Jackson), the person who saved her from a bloodbath in Vietnam within the early Nineteen Nineties again when she was a toddler. Now, they run their enterprise out of London, utilizing an antiquarian bookstore (certainly one of Anna’s passions) as a entrance. At some point, Moody, who already seems to be terminally unwell with some type of unnamed film ailment that retains him coughing, is slaughtered by a bunch of gunmen.

Suspecting that the reason for the hit was Moody’s researching the whereabouts of the kid of a person he killed a few years in the past, Anna heads again to Vietnam to trace down the culprits, who could or is probably not related to a global arms vendor and energy dealer primarily based in Da Nang. She hooks up with some outdated associates who run a biker gang and revisits the locations of her previous. Among the many individuals she’s searching for: the fast-talking Rembrandt (Michael Keaton), her mysterious quarry’s murderous chief henchman, and with whom she establishes a supposedly quick-witted, cat-and-mouse rapport.

The script, by Richard Wenk (The Equalizer 2, The Expendables 2, Jack Reacher 2) is mainly an action-movie mad lib, however Campbell manages to speculate it with some ambiance. For years, Anna has refused to return to Vietnam, and the glittering, trendy cityscape she’s confronted with looks like a far cry from the Da Nang she as soon as knew. And as she travels additional on her journey of revenge, we additionally perceive that she’ll ultimately confront her personal traumatic backstory, which we preserve glimpsing briefly flashes. Campbell is aware of that we don’t go to such films to be moved; we go to them to observe individuals break one another’s necks. Once I interviewed him final 12 months, nonetheless, he additionally made it clear that “the emotional spine” of those tales and the vibrancy of the characterizations had been the issues that may distinguish them. (The Masks of Zorro, he recalled, wanted a serious rewrite simply so as to add character growth and humor.)

Which is why The Protégé’s failures on these ranges are so dispiriting, as a result of for all of the predictability of the movie’s story, the template is there for one thing emotionally participating. Sadly, promising subplots are left unpursued, whereas character notes hold pointlessly within the air. As Anna tried to trace down the villain’s son, I obtained the sense that perhaps the movie was attempting to arrange a parallel between the 2 of them — the younger lady who was saved from a legacy of violence, and the younger boy who wasn’t — but it surely was so refined as to be barely noticeable. Or perhaps I simply made it up, as a result of in any other case the subplot would have felt meaningless.

It doesn’t assist that Anna is introduced all through as a cool killing machine — hardly ever breaking a sweat, even in her most determined moments — which regularly makes it onerous to attach along with her grief and rage. Keaton’s Rembrandt, in the meantime, is completely one-note, sustaining his slick, ironic, motormouth shtick it doesn’t matter what, making him appear to be minor bad-guy cannon fodder who’s been elevated to the extent of a featured participant, as if the manufacturing couldn’t pay for the actor so as to add additional dimensions to the character. The back-and-forth between Rembrandt and Anna — alternately confrontational and chummy, with an excellent dose of what’s alleged to be sexual pressure — might need labored had it been sharply written, however the script hardly ever rises above the extent of dispiriting clichés: “Looks like I’m a day late.” “And a dollar short.” “Sang like a bird, did he?” “Oh, the things I know now. I know who your boss is.” “He’s a big fish.” “More fun when you hook ‘em.” And so forth. This doesn’t even depend as attempting.

That mentioned, the motion scenes are principally effectively dealt with and inventive. Maggie Q, a veteran of many a shoot-’em-up, strikes completely for fights and chases. She’s fast, and simply sleek sufficient to convey experience with out lapsing into deliberate, dancerly phoniness; we purchase each punch, kick, leap, fall, head-shot, neck-snap, and strangulation as a factor that’s occurring at that very second and never a factor that’s been rehearsed for weeks prior. That takes real ability, and it’s onerous to not really feel like that’s the place many of the artistic energies of the filmmakers went, with little left for all the opposite necessary stuff.

Nonetheless, as long as no person is speaking, The Protégé has an easygoing fluidity. Early on, throughout a few wordless passages when Anna tried to piece collectively what occurred to Moody, I marveled on the simplicity with which Campbell conveyed essential story info with out anybody having to open their mouths. It means that he understands the place the movie’s – and his – strengths lie. Sadly, for each scene through which The Protégé appears to know precisely what it’s, there’s one through which it appears to assume it’s loads smarter than it’s. Given the extent of expertise concerned, that has to depend as a disappointment.

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