Review: Maggie Q and Keaton elevate late summer surprise 'The Protégé'
Courtesy of Lionsgate
The sexual tension and chemistry are fiery among action starlet Maggie Q and 69-year-old national treasure Michael Keaton in Martin Campbell’s late August surprise “The Protégé.” Taking plenty of proven ingredients-rouge assassins, smarmy mentors, bloody knife fights-and retooling the subgenre of sexy hitman with a modern flair and delivering a true starring vehicle for Maggie Q, “The Protégé” has no business being this entertaining, but its refreshing change of pace finally gives a well-deserved actress the spotlight. Don’t count out Keaton either, playing a role that feels much younger than he plays it, a suave adversary obsessed with his new target. When the two get into their own tête-à-tête inside a confined apartment building, you can immediately feel these two are attracted to each other in all the wrong ways. That it works despite their 30-year age gap speaks volumes to the performances and how sometimes the strangest pairing yields robust results.
A return to form for Campbell after having been stuck in director’s jail following the abysmal “Green Lantern,” his “The Protégé” wipes that slate clean, reminding us why “Casino Royale” and “The Mask of Zorro” were successful: by focusing on character and the rest will follow. He takes an unsavory script riddled with numerous cliches and genre troupes and hands over the reins to Maggie Q, her biggest showcase yet. In the film, she plays Anna, the titular pupil who at the age of 10 took out a whole squad of murderous drug and human traffickers in Vietnam. She’s saved by Moody (Samuel L. Jackson), a notoriously famous hitman who has provided for and trained Anna all these years. “The Protégé” does the audience a favor by skipping “The Karate Kid” style montages and throws us right into the action 30 years later. When Q’s Anna goes straight for the jugular with an iPhone equipped with a serrated blade in the opening ten minutes, it’s clear Moody has taught her well.
Moody and Anna are in the business of killing people, but only the bad ones obviously, though the risks and moral dilemmas are starting to add up and it looks like the duo might be heading for retirement. Moody is in poor health and she owns and operates her own bookstore, but when a squad of thugs come around spraying bullets, Anna finds herself on the defensive. This sends “The Protégé” spiraling into another one of those globe-trotting adventures where the protagonist is trying to solve a mystery while at the same time plotting to kill the primary attacker. Enter Keaton’s Rembrandt, one of those dudes working for the attacker who is surrounded by the heaviest security detail and can’t be touched. That only gives Anna more motivation: she loves a challenge.
The inspired casting of Keaton opposite Maggie Q elevates this routine August sleeper and Jackson continues to be one of the hardest working men in Hollywood. But like Keaton, Jacksons is tended to the sidelines and Campbell wisely keeps the camera glued on Maggie Q, highlighting her physical dexterity and stylish throwdowns. If more films can figure out a way to utilize the actress in this format rather than stick her in lame supporting roles, the world could be a much better place.
THE PROTÉGÉ is now playing only in theaters.