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Review: The Protégé

August 20, 2021

By John Corrado

★★ (out of 4)

An assassin sets out to avenge the death of her mentor and father figure in The Protégé, a passable but somewhat disappointing new action thriller from Casino Royale director Martin Campbell that is elevated by the casting of Maggie Q and Michael Keaton, but bogged down by a somewhat poorly told story.

The protagonist is a disarming and ruthless contract killer named Anna (Maggie Q). As we find out in the film’s opening flashback to 1991, she was rescued as a child in De Nang, Vietnam by Moody (Samuel L. Jackson), a trained killer who softened up around her and raised her like his own daughter.

In present day, Anna is hiding behind the front of running a rare book shop in London. When Moody is brutally killed, she sets out to hunt down the men responsible, which ends up bringing her back to her roots in Vietnam. Along the way, Anna becomes entangled with another contract killer, a shadowy figure named Rembrandt (Keaton), who sweet talks his way into her life when he waltzes into the book shop and starts flirting with her over rare books.

The scenes between Maggie Q and Keaton are undoubtedly the high points of the film. The two actors have some simmering chemistry together that is fun to watch, including a weirdly seductive dinner with guns pointed at each other’s crotches, and a well-choreographed fight between them. Campbell’s film does have some entertaining moments such as these, and it is slickly assembled with a few well timed needle drops. Jackson, for his part, does exactly what you expect him to do with his role as a crotchety, aging assassin, and has some fun with it.

But Campbell ultimately reminds us that, while he directed the James Bond films Casino Royale and Goldeneye, he also made Green Lantern. The overall tone of The Protégé feels somewhat inconsistent between sultry romantic thriller, mismatched buddy comedy, and gritty revenge story. The violence is also somewhat unexpectedly brutal to the point of being off-putting at times. The screenplay by Richard Wenk, who has written a number of other action flicks including both Equalizer films and one of the Expendables movies, doesn’t do enough to flesh out its characters. It’s instead propped up by a number of clichés, and the story itself is overly convoluted and at times confusing in its construction.

This leaves Maggie Q to do almost all the heavy lifting, and she does capably carry The Protégé, handily proving her worth as an action star for anyone who might be in doubt. But I wish that the film around her had been better assembled to match her talents. The result is a thoroughly mediocre action movie that is elevated by Maggie Q and Michael Keaton, but as a whole is not as strong or memorable as the chemistry between these two stars themselves.

The Protégé is now playing in theatres. It’s being distributed in Canada by VVS Films.

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