‘American Assassin’ film took a twisty route
By JEFF BAENEN
After twists and turns worthy of the very spy series it sprung from, a movie featuring the indomitable fictional terrorism fighter Mitch Rapp is about to hit movie screens nationwide – four years after his creator, author Vince Flynn, died from prostate cancer.
“American Assassin,” the first movie based on a Flynn best-seller, premieres Friday, featuring Dylan O’Brien (“The Maze Runner”) as Rapp and Michael Keaton as his weathered mentor, Stan Hurley, on a mission to avert nuclear war in the Middle East.
Getting Rapp to the big screen has been a decadelong odyssey, said “American Assassin” producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura, a fan of the series who got to know Flynn before his death in 2013.
“When Vince died we redoubled our efforts to get this made. I owed him that,” said di Bonaventura, who produced the Transformers movies.
Flynn, a native of St. Paul, wrote 14 political thrillers, starting with his self-published “Term Limits” in 1997, and featured his CIA counterterrorism operative Rapp in 13. His books have sold nearly 20 million copies in the U.S. and millions more worldwide, and include former Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush among fans.
But making a Mitch Rapp movie proved elusive. Originally Flynn’s novel “Consent to Kill” was considered, then put aside. “Training Day” director Antoine Fuqua originally was attached to direct “American Assassin,” but moved on to direct “Olympus Has Fallen.” Chris Hemsworth passed on the lead role because of scheduling issues, and Bruce Willis was interested in playing Hurley but no deal was made.
Producers had to get cameras rolling before the film rights reverted to Flynn’s estate, di Bonaventura said.
“We weren’t at an urgent level but we were approaching them,” he said. Filmmakers also had to wait while O’Brien recovered from an injury suffered during an accident while filming a “Maze Runner” sequel in 2016. Finally the 55-day shoot began last September and jumped from London to Rome and Malta before finishing in Thailand.
Changes were made to the plot of the film. Instead of having Rapp out for vengeance after his girlfriend is killed in the 1988 Lockerbie bombing, the movie moves the action to present day with Rapp’s fiancee slain in a terrorist beach massacre in Spain. That creates an origin story and places Rapp, who is 23 in the story, closer in age to the 26-year-old O’Brien.
“We were not making a period piece,” said co-screenwriter Stephen Schiff, who said he came up with the beach massacre opening. “That seems like no way to launch a franchise.”
“American Assassin” cost about $50 million, modest by action movie standards.