A veteran Hollywood cast and skilled direction take a convoluted B-movie plot to higher ground. The Protégé puts a brutalized orphan girl under the tutelage of a wily assassin. He becomes a father, friend, and mentor. Who teaches her to go for the jugular like a stalking tiger. The film is loaded with punishing action scenes, but succumbs to periodic silliness with nonsensical flirtations and wild plot twists.
The Protégé opens in 1991 Da Nang, Vietnam. An elite hit man, Moody (Samuel L. Jackson), finds a bloodied preteen girl (Eva Nguyen Thorsen) under dangerous circumstances. He admires the child's toughness and decides to take her under his wing. Three decades later, Anna (Maggie Q), has become a London sophisticate. She owns a high-end rare bookstore. Selling vintage Edgar Allan Poe by day, then savagely collecting million dollar bounties at night. Anna and Moody specialize in finding those who wish to disappear in the shadows.
Moody's quiet birthday celebration at his palatial English manor goes off without a hitch. The following day, a mysterious visitor (Michael Keaton) visits Anna's bookstore and causes a chain reaction of carnage. One of Moody's past misdeeds has come back to haunt him. But he has a fierce protector in his corner. Anna goes back to Vietnam to uncover the powerful puppet master targeting them. She finds a much different country from her youth, but still ruled by feckless politicians and gangsters. Anna must face the traumatic events of her childhood. Then rain down vengeance on those who have wronged her.
Director Martin Campbell knows how to make a good action flick. He's done everything from Bond (GoldenEye, Casino Royale) to Jackie Chan (The Foreigner). The Protégé has him true to form. The film has good pacing with well choreographed fights and gunplay. His all-star ensemble plays their characters smartly. Samuel L. Jackson drops a trademark "motherf***er", but reigns in the brashness for a more reserved performance. Maggie Q is an able action star under Campbell's guidance. She's much smaller than the bad guys she easily pummels. The Protégé dispatches death quickly without theatrics.
Several issues persist throughout the film. There's a lot of unnecessary monologuing and unrealistic banter. Maggie Q and Michael Keaton flirt while fighting. There's zero sexual tension between them, so these scenes end up being comical. The Protégé also suffers from left field plot reveals that don't make any sense. These characters are supposedly the top tier of trained killers. Yet they consistently let enemies walk away and make decisions that put their own lives in danger. It also doesn't help that the actual villain is laughably unthreatening.
The Protégé has a few good qualities, but doesn't capitalize on them enough. There are some unpredictable moments meant for shock value. They don't pay off in a way that truly differentiates the story. We've seen the female assassin narrative countless times before. The Protégé ends up being another drop in the bucket. It's a midrange actioner that should suffice for genre fans. The Protégé is produced by Millennium Media, Arthur Sarkissian Productions, and Campbell Grobman Films. It is currently in wide theatrical release from Lionsgate.