For the second time in a year, Samuel L. Jackson is playing a hitman in a movie. And for the second time in a year, you’ll wish he hadn’t.
His assassin character in “The Protégé,” Moody, is nowhere near as obnoxious and loud as Darius Kincaid from “Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard.” Still, the actor should try another fictional profession on for size. Preferably in a movie that’s not a garbled mess.
“The Protégé” starts out well enough. On a job, Moody discovers a little girl with blood splattered on her face hiding in a Vietnamese closet holding a gun. She just killed a room full of her captors.
Running time: 109 minutes. Rated R (strong and bloody violence, language, some sexual references and brief nudity.) In theaters.
Impressed, Moody takes her under his wing, and 30 years later Anna (Maggie Q) is a murder machine. Assassins for hire, the two pride themselves on offing low-lifes who are actually bad people. After they’re done with work, Anna heads back to London, where she owns a rare bookshop.
Their well-oiled routine is shattered when Moody is killed at his stately English home. And Anna goes on a revenge spree to find the man responsible.
All of that stuff is hunky dory. Up till now “The Protégé” is light on its feet; an action-comedy without hitting us over the head with dumb jokes.
But halfway through the movie, it succumbs to darkness and loses any sense of fun. Baddies are killed by hangings. Weird, unfunny lines of dialogue pop up such as, “You point a gun at my p—y and ask me to bed? I like your style.” Ew.
That back-and-forth is between Anna and Rembrandt (Michael Keaton), who is another hitman who both has the hots for her and tries to kill her. Keaton and Q have chemistry — if only it were put to better use.
“The Protégé” should’ve been a home run for director Martin Campbell, who did brilliantly with “Casino Royale,” Daniel Craig’s first James Bond film. He brought seriousness to the old franchise without sacrificing its charm or decadence.
Instead, we get old clichés. A villain utters a portentous monologue in his lair while he pours whiskey from a crystal carafe. Come on, Marty. You can do better than that.
The film’s bright spot is Q, who has really become a capable, confident, sexy action star. I can’t wait to see her in another action movie that is not this one.