Rescued as a child by the legendary assassin Moody (Samuel L. Jackson) and trained in the family business, Anna (Maggie Q) is the world’s most skilled contract killer. 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 killed, Anna vows revenge. As she becomes entangled with an enigmatic killer (Michael Keaton) whose attraction to her goes way beyond cat and mouse, their confrontation turns deadly and the loose ends of a life spent killing will weave themselves even tighter.
*BE SURE TO CATCH CHUCK’S INTERVIEW WITH MAGGIE Q ON WCIA TV!
There’s nothing really wrong with Martin Campbell’s “The Protégé.” It features a perfectly serviceable plot for an action film, has an attractive and appealing cast of screen veterans and contains well-choreographed fight sequences, one of them a cut-above the standard sort of cinematic fisticuffs. So why am I having such a hard time remembering particulars of the movie less than a week after having seen it?
Done in a perfunctory manner with little enthusiasm or innovation, this is an empty-calorie movie, one in which everyone involved goes through the motions, hits their marks, knows their lines and little else. It’s not necessarily bad…but it’s not necessarily good either.
Maggie Q takes on the title role, playing an assassin named Anna who was rescued as a child in Vietnam in 1991 by Moody (Samuel L. Jackson), a mercenary who takes her under his wing and, over the years, teaches her the tools of his trade. They have a good thing going, contracting out as a team, her executing the close contact parts of the job, him providing back up from a distance. She has a cover running an antique bookstore in England, while Moody lives high on the hog in a palatial country estate. Life is good.
That is until Moody makes an inquiry about one Lucas Hayes, who has a connection to a hit he did years earlier. Why he’s seeking this information is explained later but suffice it to say, this look to the past causes some anonymous bad guys to come calling and before you know it, Moody is a bloody mess, dead in his bathtub. Of course, Anna sets out to find out who did in her mentor, a quest that ultimately takes her back to Vietnam.
As I said, this is pretty standard stuff, all done in a perfectly satisfactory way. However, there is one thing that makes this affair a bit more intriguing and that’s the presence of Michael Keaton, who tends to make most things he’s involved in more intriguing. He too is an assassin, working for the man Anna seeks. Of course, their paths cross and the cat-and-mouse game that ensues between them is the most interesting aspect of the film.
Keaton’s wry wit and innate sense of mischievousness brings a much-needed spark to the film, his energy giving a boost to each scene he’s in. A flirtatious dinner between him and Q is a highlight as is an extended hand-to-hand combat scene between them that’s more foreplay than fight. Keaton is having fun here, doing his best to goose the film along.
However, even he can’t seem to elicit much of a response from his co-star. Without question, Q is a formidable presence in films of this sort and is at times quite captivating. Yet, her stoic performance here registers more distracted than pensive. Yes, her character is carrying around a steamer trunk worth of emotional baggage which leads to a number of introspective moments where the actress is asked to silently convey complex emotions. Unfortunately, during these scenes I got the impression Q was thinking about what she needed from the grocery store rather than any psychological quandary.
Perhaps I am being a bit too harsh. Yet the problem is, I’ve seen so many movies just like this that it’s hard to muster any enthusiasm for them and I resort to nitpicking and perhaps pettiness. I suppose the nicest thing I can say about “The Protégé” is that it’s OK. I think those involved in its making were aiming for something more.
2 1/2 Stars