Thursday, August 19, 2021

The Protégé

For having a single writer and no directorial or production upheaval, The Protégé is one hell of a schizophrenic film. I don't know if director Martin Campbell and screenwriter Richard Wenk had conflicting takes on what the film should be or if The Protégé is simply an example of the final result being far less than the sum of its parts. The action-thriller stars Maggie Q as a bookshop owner/assassin saved as a child from violence in Vietnam by a professional killer (Samuel L. Jackson) who raised and trained her to be his, wait for it, protégé.

As a fan of Maggie Q's run on Nikita, I'm all for watching her kick some ass and leave a trail of bodies behind. And the film's action sequences definitely work well. I could have done without the torture scenes, and the luridness that seems to spring up out of nowhere from time to time contrasting the more straightforward revenge story of the assassin out for blood and the offbeat romantic thread of our heroine flirting with a rival killer (Michael Keaton). While I like both Q and Keaton, there's no reason to root for these characters to get together. Mr. and Mrs. Smith or Out of Sight, this ain't.

The Protégé seems to be in a midlife crisis, not really knowing what it is or what it truly wants to be. Q is well-cast as the lead, although I think there are opportunities wasted not to make better use of her. Jackson is up to his usual schtick, and Keaton is an interesting choice (although the lack of on-screen chemistry between him and Q is certainly problematic). And what the hell is Robert Patrick doing here? Tonally, the film is a Pollock painting, shifting between serious, flirtatious, comedic, cute or vulgar not because the characters or events drive the story in that direction but only because a particular scene calls for it. There's an interesting movie buried deep in The Protégé that seems to have gotten lost on its way to the screen.

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