My first question when we saw this movie was, “Is Samuel L. Jackson in every movie coming out of Hollywood?” It seems that way, and a quick check shows that he’s been in no less than twenty films in the last five years, with more in production. He’s one busy actor!
Here he stars as “Moody,” alongside Maggie Q as Anna and Michael Keaton as “Rembrandt,” in a film about, well, I’m not really sure how to describe it without spoiling it, but there sure is a lot of shooting, fighting and killing. The characters are all bad guys, going after other bad guys, a few of whom report to a generic off-screen Mr. Big who pulls their strings and of whom everyone is afraid. There are several plot lines. One is Anna’s origin story, with flashbacks to Viet Nam. Another evolves as the movie gets underway, probing the relationship between her and Moody. But the main story has to do with the mysterious identity of Mr. Vohl (Mr. Big.)
I’ve struggled with Michael Keaton as an actor ever since he turned from Mr. Mom into Batman. Comedians often make great actors. The comic persona that masks their inner turmoil can also be tapped into for great acting inspiration. In this role, Keaton is a mild-mannered, skilled psychopath who spends time laying out his opponent’s options and chances for success. And as hard as they try to ignite some on-screen chemistry between him and Q (so what’s her name, anyway? It’s Quigley,) it’s just not convincing. Really, you’re interested in this 70-year-old who’s trying to kill you and who just spoke the dumbest line in the movie? (I won’t give it away.) There was lots of body double work for Keaton's part.
One note, the stunt that involves the main character plunging several stories down into the atrium of a building using a firehose as a bungie cord has been overdone.
The unsmiling Anna is a bit hard to accept as the world’s greatest assassin. She’s sort of scrawny and lacks the physicality of Charlize Theron or Lucy Liu. But she’s something of a superstar in Asia, and here broadens the stable of available Asian actors as Hollywood diversifies.
The Protégé held my attention, despite some really curious camera work at times, low steady-cam shots that were dizzying and served no purpose.
Director Martin Campbell has a lengthy portfolio of occasionally successful films, including Vertical Limit, Goldeneye and Casino Royale. I don’t think this one will earn him any honors.
The Protégé (2021) runs 1 hour, 49 minutes and is rated R.