Michael Keaton, Maggie Q, and Samuel L. Jackson star as assassins in director Martin Campbell’s latest action-thriller, The Protégé.
The film opens in Vietnam in 1991 with hitman Moody (Samuel L. Jackson) on a job when he comes across a young girl, Anna, hiding in a closet and holding a gun. She’s managed to kill her captors and he’s impressed with her talent and willingness to try to kill him if he poses a threat. Moody decides to take her under his wing and make her his protégé.
Leaping ahead 30 years, Anna (Maggie Q) has grown into an extremely efficient and capable killer. She’s still with Moody but now they’ve teamed up as professional assassins who pride themselves on only taking jobs to eliminate bad/evil people.
After another successful job, Anna and Moody head home to London where Anna’s other job is owning a rare bookstore.
It’s just after celebrating Moody’s 70th birthday that all hell breaks loose and Moody is killed at his lavish home in England. Anna realizes his death is the result of looking into an old job of his from years ago. Determined to avenge her mentor’s death, Anna goes on the hunt to find the man responsible and kill him – and anyone else who gets in her way, for that matter.
During her hunt for the killer, Anna crosses paths with a mysterious, charismatic, and deadly assassin named Rembrandt (Michael Keaton) who she finds herself drawn to. While flirting with Anna, Rembrandt warns her if she stays on course with her search, she will die. Anna pays no heed to that warning and instead remains determined in her quest for revenge.
Action-packed but uneven, The Protégé is a B-class thriller with A-list actors. It’s reminiscent of other stronger and more impressive action films and feels as though it’s sampling their original ideas and even some of their action stunts. It’s a film which could be skipped, but Michael Keaton fans would then miss out on a stand-out performance by the Oscar-nominated actor.
Keaton shines as the quirky, charming, and lethal killer Rembrandt who finds his target, Anna, curious, alluring, and a deadly challenge. Keaton infuses the film with its much-needed levity and humor. He steals every scene and elevates The Protégé from being forgettable to entertaining.
Maggie Q delivers a solid performance as Anna, an artistic and well-educated woman who’s just as deadly as she is attractive. Her best scenes in the film are early on when she demonstrates just how precise she is with carrying out a hit. A scene in which she eliminates a mob boss and his henchmen is surprising and memorable. Unfortunately, one problem with the film is her lack of chemistry with Keaton. It’s obvious in their first scene together that the attraction and intrigue her character is supposed to feel toward Rembrandt is absent.
Samuel L. Jackson IS Samuel L. Jackson as Moody, delivering an all too familiar performance as an over-the-hill hitman getting ready to retire and atone for his sins. Still, Jackson has solid chemistry with Maggie Q and their scenes together work extremely well.
The film’s biggest flaw is with its tone and pacing. The Protégé goes back and forth between tongue-in-cheek dialogue and witty banter to dark and brutal killing and fight scenes. It feels as though Martin Campbell couldn’t decide on whether he wanted the movie to be an action-thriller or an action-comedy. This is especially true when the film provides a flashback that shows the terrible deaths of Anna’s family.
Yet even with its flaws, some well-choreographed fight scenes and the scene-stealing performance by Michael Keaton are enough to make The Protégé an entertaining action film – if you go in with lowered expectations.
MPAA Rating: R for some sexual references, language, brief nudity, and strong and bloody violence
Running Time: 1 hour 49 minutes
Release Date: August 20, 2021
Studio: Lionsgate Films