Movie Review: A little too seasoned to be just “The Protege”

Maggie Q returns to “Nikita” territory with “The Protege,” playing a sexy and exotic assassin not unlike her best known TV role.

It’s her latest lead, part of a run that included “Fantasy Island,” “Death of Me” and “The Argument,” and she almost lets us see herself asking “Is this a step backwards?” in her tentative, blasé performance.

Anna was a Vietnamese orphan raised by the hired killer (Samuel L. Jackson) who found her after walking in late on a scene of mass slaughter. Bad men had killed her family. Little Anna (Eva Nugyen Thorsen) is the last person standing. And she’s holding one of their guns.

Decades later, she and her mentor are a cool, efficient machine, people who “find people who can’t be found,” and often as not, stab, shoot, strangle or kill them with a bomb.

But Moody (Jackson) is getting on up there, even if he claims “70 is the new 30.” And he’s got that tubercular cough that tells us, and anybody who’s ever been to the opera, he’s not long for this world.

And the merest hint of searching for a long-lost child of an infamous oligarch, the subject of an earlier contract, puts Moody in the bullseye and Anna on the lam and on the hunt. Killers are on her tail and must be dispatched. Cities and old “friends” must be visited and outfits must be changed, and often.

Anna’s search for yet another person who “can’t be found” takes her back to her native Vietnam, despite her serious misgivings.

“Our past is never what we left it.”

Michael Keaton plays Rembrandt, a mysterious “security” expert who knows way more about Anna and Moody than she should be comfortable with. He’s menacing — he may be involved with those who are after her — and he’s very flirtatious. She flirts back.

“How long you been doing this?”

“Long enough not to miss.

Keaton brings a little sparkle to his scenes, but he and Maggie Q have little to no chemistry. The fact that he’s 27 years her senior may have something to do with it. The fight choreography has to hide a lot of stunt doubling accordingly.

Q is runway ready and model thin, and here she lets us see hesitation in every little flash of action. That’s not what we want from an action heroine.

Director Martin Campbell has Bond credits and a resume that stretches back to the ’70s. But his violent, humorless and predictable vengeance reinvention of Jackie Chan (“The Foreigner”) let us know he’s lost his edge and whatever he brings to the fights and shootouts here, he can’t make it all coalesce into a coherent film.

The script is straight-up formula, which suggests few surprises, but also that the component parts should have clicked better than they did. Jackson’s played this sort of guy to death, and can’t find any more fun in such characters. Not without Ryan Reynolds and Selma Hayek around. Keaton (and his stunt double) delivers the goods.

Robert Patrick shows up as the leader of a ‘Nam vets biker gang, in Vietnam, and is so colorful you kind of wish the movie had been more about him.

But our star, framed in many an alluring closeup, gives us nothing here. She’s almost expressionless, and however “true to life” that might be for a cold-blooded killer, that choice makes for a dull, uninvolving performance.

Q was pretty good in “Death of Me,” and “Fantasy Island” wasn’t really her fault. So it’s not that she can’t carry a movie. But she does a damn poor job of hiding her disinterest in this one.

Rating: R for strong and bloody violence, language, some sexual references and brief nudity

Cast: Maggie Q, Samuel L. Jackson, Robert Patrick, Ray Feuron, Patrick Malahide and Michael Keaton.

Credits: Directed by Martin Campbell, script by Richard Wenk. A Lionsgate release.

Running time: 1:49

About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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