“The Protégé” — ★ ★ ½
Dear Martin Campbell:
The new thriller you directed, “The Protégé,” sure delivers on the action.
The lithe model-turned-movie-star Maggie Q acquits herself well as Anna, trained since childhood to be an ace international assassin by a scowling Samuel L. Jackson, himself an elite hitman named Moody.
Man, that Maggie can move. She whups the bejeezus out of a room full of thugs (all dressed in standard-issue black, leathery thug outfits) using everyday objects as weapons, just like in a Jackie Chan movie.
Gasping, choking and spitting, she barely survives being waterboarded by torturers (a slam at the “enhanced interrogation techniques” during the Bush administration, maybe?)
And she impressively performs many of her own stunts, despite her being in recovery from a spine operation.
Best of all, she has more acting chops than Chuck Norris has karate chops.
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Take the scenes where she develops a conflicted relationship with her enemy and male assassin counterpart, a poetry-spouting fellow named Rembrandt, deliciously played by a slyly winking Michael Keaton. These two couldn’t mesh better than if the love experts on “Married at First Sight” paired them.
Their smart, crackling dialogue is a hoot. Maybe more hoots than that.
Your writer Richard Wenk must have channeled Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck from “Double Indemnity” when he crafted those double-entendre gems dripping with suggestiveness and flirty fun.
Anyway, Martin, this gets to my point. The whole cat-and-alley-cat interplay between these two characters is downright hilarious.
Later in “The Protégé,” the plot takes a ridiculous twist, one to which Anna comically underreacts.
Speaking of ridiculous twists, in a couple of confrontations, Anna goes full-tilt Bruce Lee on several bad guys, even though she has a bullet wound in her stomach. Could she be related to Wolverine and somehow have inherited his instant-healing metabolism?
I was thinking about that when it hit me just like Anna’s fists of fury, Martin.
“Protégé” would have been a terrific black comedy that had great fun with its “enhanced action cliches” instead of being just a straight thriller with cliches. You know, something close to John Huston’s “Prizzi’s Honor,” starring Jack Nicholson and Kathleen Turner as seasoned mob assassins who fall in love before being assigned to kill each other.
Remember, Martin, even “Dr. Strangelove” started out as a serious nuclear war drama until Stanley Kubrick realized it couldn’t be anything but a black comedy.
Hey, I’m a big fan of your “Casino Royale” that rescued the James Bond franchise from being an embarrassing joke and gave it some overdue noir love.
All I’m asking for is the opposite here — take an overdone genre (“The Long Kiss Goodnight” also with Jackson, “Columbiana,” “Red Sparrow,” “Leon the Professional” and many others) and let the comedy be unleashed!
“The Protégé” is already 80% there.
Sincerely, Your fan Dann
• • •
Starring: Maggie Q, Michael Keaton, Samuel L. Jackson
Directed by: Martin Campbell
Other: A Lionsgate release in theaters. Rated R for language, nudity and violence. 109 minutes