Film Review: The Protégé
Director: Martin Campbell
In Theaters 08.20
The good news about The Protégé is that it’s easily the best film that director Martin Campbell (GoldenEye, The Mask of Zorro, Casino Royale) has made in more than a decade. The bad news is that that’s a bit like saying, “This is the best styrofoam I’ve eaten in weeks.” Once one of Hollywood’s most reliable action directors, Campbell went from brightest day to blackest night when Green Lantern snuffed out his career. He has yet to find the right vehicle to stage a comeback.
The title of The Protégé refers to Anna (Maggie Q, Mission Impossible III, Live Free or Die Hard, Nikita), a skilled contract killer who was rescued as a child in Vietnam by a legendary assassin named Moody (Samuel L. Jackson, Pulp Fiction) and trained in the family business. But when Moody—the man who was like a father to her and taught her everything she needs to know about trust and survival—is brutally murdered, Anna vows revenge. As she becomes entangled with an enigmatic fellow professional named Rembrandt (Michael Keaton, Batman, Birdman, Spotlight)—whose interest in her goes way beyond cat and mouse—the deadly game they’re playing starts to eerily resemble every other assassin movie ever made.
The Protégé benefits from impeccable cinematography from the highly underrated David Tattersall (The Green Mile, The Star Wars prequels), whose noirish lighting and ’90s film look nicely sets the tone and makes the numerous fight scenes look better than they are. But the movie gets off to a rather slow start and feels significantly longer than the 110-minute runtime. The screenplay by Richard Wenk (The Equalizer) isn’t truly bad, per se, but it’s not good, as it lacks in originality or any dramatic hook to give the audience a reason to root for one side over the other, apart from the fact that Maggie Q is attractive, has cool moves and, certainly, is the closest thing to a reason to see to see The Protégé, especially for those of us who’ve waited for her to get a theatrical star vehicle since 2006.
Still, we’ve seen the character so many times before, and it’s frustrating that an action film with a female lead doesn’t try to give her any motivations, ideas or reason for being that are not dictated every step of the way by men—and bad men at that, whether it’s those she feels a fierce loyalty to or those she wants to take down. Keaton feels a little miscast as the spry tough guy to me. Although, though he makes it work and seems to be having fun.
Despite Jackson’s immense talent and presence, I have had enough of this motherfucking star in these motherfucking, generic, aging-badass roles! How many times are we supposed to be endlessly delighted by “he swears, he kills, he swears, he laughs, he swears and he’s bald”? That’s not to say that I want Jackson to go away. I just want to see him get some variety like he did in the old days. Doesn’t it seem like his role in the Marvel Cinematic Universe should be the one where he’s having fun and picking up a nice fat paycheck instead of being nearly the only opportunity we get to periodically stretch himself a bit as an actor?
Despite budgetary limitations, The Protégé does give Campbell small opportunities to show off his skills. And Maggie Q commandes the screen. That’s not enough to give this halfhearted effort a solid reason to exist, but if you really miss ’90s action flicks, it’s going to be well worth a $6.99 rental when it hits digital, if not quite enough reason to bother going out to the theater at this time. –Patrick Gibbs