The Protege

In theaters August 20

THE PLOT:

Anna (Maggie Q) as a child, is rescued by assassin Moody (Samuel L. Jackson).

Anna is now grown and works in the “family business.” When Moody is brutally killed, Anna embarks upon a journey of discovery and merciless revenge.

That journey has Anna crossing paths with the charming Rembrandt (Michael Keaton), a fellow killer who is an adversary, yet peaks her interest. As their goals spiral toward one another, Anna and Rembrandt realize that a confrontation is inevitable.

KENT'S TAKE:

“The Protégé” is a surprisingly better film than I expected. It helps to lower ones expectations. The film doesn’t take itself too seriously and it certainly doesn’t sweat the details – making this a crazy, sometimes funny, unexpected adventure.

Anna is good at her job slicing and dicing bad guys who don’t want to be found, but she can find them and metes out revenge.

Moody, her surrogate father and friend is getting long in the tooth and is ailing. When she finds him slain, she snaps and begins her most important mission – kill the man responsible for her loved ones death.

Director Martin Campbell brings audiences into a typical world of assassins. Money, decadence and power create an impenetrable wall of misinformation and secrecy. However, with the good writing from Richard Wenk, Campbell is able to elevate this film with smart surprises and a few twists.

These memorable moments help keep viewers on their toes and wondering what hides around the next corner. That said, this film has its flaws. There are some rather ridiculous “escape” moments that would send some films off the rails, but here it seems to work simply for the fact that we are all in the know that this isn’t the next James Bond film. Anna escapes her imprisonment and water-boarding experience by overpowering four unarmed men who enter her cell . . . using her aluminum food tray and a perfectly placed sharp metal edge, she is able to free herself and kill her captors. Okay, this sounds even more ridiculous than how it actually played out.

The cast gives good performances. Jackson’s Moody is the brash, smart-alec “soft-on-the-inside” father to Anna. Keaton’s Rembrandt paints a picture of charm and skilled execution, while Q’s Anna carries this film with her steel gaze, toned beauty and skilled acting. There is even a “Mr. and Mrs. Smith” moment where Anna and Rembrandt square off in a battle for supremacy, resulting in a funny “positional twist.”

The pacing of the film is well done as clues are revealed and the plot thickens as the stakes are raised. Although the ending doesn’t have a huge twist, it is smart and well done wrapping up this tale in a tidy bow and leaving an opening for a sequel.

“The Protégé” is a fun summer flick that may not have a lasting impact for audiences, but it certainly fulfills its task of entertainment and twists.

LYNN’S TAKE:

Despite a few fine actors who wring out decent performances, “The Protégé” is a convoluted and ridiculous late-summer action-thriller throwaway with too many characters, loose ends and nine lives.

Slickly directed by Martin Campbell, who is more focused on style than substance, the movie combines quicksilver martial arts combat with blazing bullets ripping people open in high-powered gunfights. Let’s mow people down first, get a few answers later.

The testosterone-heavy script by Richard Wenk, who wrote both “The Equalizer” reboot in 2014 and its sequel four years later, shrouds all characters in mystery.

Samuel L. Jackson plays cranky Moody, a crackerjack hired killer who has mentored a young Vietnamese orphan girl, Anna, that he saved in Da Nang. On the plus side, Wenk did write some sage advice from Moody, delivered as only Jackson can.

The beautiful lethal weapon Anna is now an expertly trained cold-blooded contract killer whose side hustle is a rare book shop in London. Action star Maggie Q (TV’s “Nikita”) is a cool and composed heroine, always one step ahead of the enemy.

When the going gets rough, Anna is forced to return to her homeland, a place she never wanted to see again, and with the help of grizzled biker Billy Boy (Robert Patrick), she tracks down powerful rich old white men pulling the strings. The who, what, why remain fuzzy -- just minor details as long as they are in fancy houses in plush locales being attended to by a gaggle of generic yes men acting tough.

Wenk wants us to believe Anna has met her equal in Rembrandt, played with a wink by the unlikely Michael Keaton, cast against type. Not exactly in his wheelhouse, but then again, also not disappointing -- even though it’s a strikingly odd couple.

Keaton manages to deliver some quippy wordplay that doubles as foreplay when he and Anna meet oh-so conveniently at several spots. There is a magnetic vibe – but we’ve got gunplay to shoot that all to hell.

Follow the blood.

She’s silky, he’s smooth – and for an old white guy, he can bust a move. Well, at least his stunt double can. The Oscar-nominated actor would look more at home as an accountant.

Campbell’s coasting on his action blockbuster reputation here. After all, he introduced Pierce Brosnan as James Bond in “Goldeneye” and Daniel Craig as 007 in “Casino Royale” – but also directed the epic fail “Green Lantern.”

Nevertheless, he can deftly stage an action sequence and come up with interesting demises for the bad guys. Just kinda yucky to watch.

Without the appealing trio of Jackson, Keaton and Q, “The Protégé” would be indistinguishable from a long line of cinematic shoot-‘em-ups.

Flitting between Vietnam, Romania and England in the first 10 minutes does no one any favors, just makes the scorecard longer when you’re trying to connect the dots.

As unsentimental as this film is about running away from childhood trauma, there is a heavy-handed scene involving a gruesome beheading and extended mass bloodshed that’s pointless. We should have been spared.

Trying to lighten the mood, the filmmakers add snippets of pop songs that intrude at inane times. Note to them: No need to mimic Quentin Tarantino because you can’t compare, so stop trying so hard.

The more the film unravels, the more absurd it becomes. While watching the top-shelf three is pleasurable, one hopes they could repeat the magic another time with a better script for a less-busy movie.