The Protégé (2021)

Rating: ***
Review Date: 8/22/21
Director: Martin Campbell
Cast: Michael Keaton, Maggie Q, Samuel L. Jackson, Robert Patrick

"A man who knows Poe AND footwear..."

A hitman named Moody (Samuel L. Jackson) rescues a traumatized young girl in Vietnam (Maggie Q) and raises her to be an assassin. When her latest mission results in the death of her mentor and everyone in her network, she devotes herself to getting revenge. To complicate things, a trouble consultant named Michael Rembrandt (Michael Keaton) continually impedes her progress and develops an unhealthy attraction to her. They play cat-and-mouse with each other (along with other things) for most of the movie, until the inevitable downbeat climax.

It's extremely formulaic and by the numbers. A man rescues a girl and trains her to be an assassin. Thirty years later we see how competent she is and what she's doing with her life. We also get to see her alter ego as society sees her. With this introduction and exposition quickly and neatly out of the way, her life gets turned upside down and everyone wants her dead. Then she goes rogue for the rest of the film and all the bad guys die. While it doesn't bring anything new to the table, it's always nice to see Maggie Q in action, and she's still kicking ass at 42. She looks great, although some of her wardrobe and makeup are a bit questionable at times. Michael Keaton looks pretty good for being 70, but his action scenes aren't particularly convincing because, you know, he's old and slow - just like Samuel L. Jackson, who has precious little to do in the movie. Robert Patrick also shows up in a cameo role, but he hasn't aged well at all, which is interesting since he's younger than both Keaton and Jackson.

It's a good looking and well-made movie, shot in Romania on a lean budget. In many ways, it reminded me of "Bangkok Dangerous" (2008) in its tone and execution. The action scenes are decent, but not especially memorable, and mostly reminded me of other movies that have done the same things, only better. One of the more interesting aspects of the film is the chemistry and banter between Maggie and Keaton. Keaton is a cunning fox, always looking for an opening, while Maggie counters his every move with teases and taunts. It gets absurd after a while and eventually becomes tiresome, but it mostly works in the film's favor. The relationship and interplay between Maggie and Jackson is also surprisingly sweet and endearing. Continuity and logic holes are a problem, especially when a young Anna picks up a repeating Beretta that laughably holds at least 30 bullets, and probably closer to 50. It's also curious that the 1991 flashback of Vietnam looks exactly the same as modern day Vietnam and even uses the exact same signage. They either couldn't bother with redressing the set, or maybe they just couldn't afford to. It's not a great film, but it's good enough to scratch a "girls with guns" itch.