Anna (Maggie Q) has been raised by globe-trotting assassin Moody (Samuel L Jackson) after he found her as a ten-year-old girl in a Vietnamese slum after she had shot the men who had murdered her family. After three decades of work, Moody seems ready to settle down a bit while Anna has built a thriving cover business in the form of a bookstore specializing in rare first editions. But Moody’s past seems to catch up with him as Anna finds him brutally shot dead in his home. Anna’s quest for revenge takes her back to Vietnam for the first time in thirty years, and crosses paths with the mysterious and charming stranger(Michael Keaton) whom she first met as a customer in her bookstore.
Martin Campbell is a solid action director and certainly delivers the goods here. The action is cleanly shot and presented in ways that highlight the performers rather then try to impart a visual energy through fast editing and close-up, handheld camera work. Campbell’s frequent collaborator, cinematographer David Tattersall, highlights the film’s location shooting, particularly capturing the neon and shadow drenched streets of Vietnam.
Maggie Q does good work in the role of the vengeful assassin Anna. She is a tough woman, but not an invincible, unstoppable killing machine. When she gets hurt, she feels it and the audience sees it. This vulnerability helps build tension through many of the action sequences.
Michael Keaton is, of course, Michael Keaton. He has made a career out of playing charming guys with a hint of darkness bubbling just underneath the surface. It certainly serves himself good here, as by the time we discover that he is definitely not on the side of the angels, we still find ourselves hoping that he will survive to be villainous another day.
The problem is when Q and Keaton are in scenes together. The scenes in which they share the screen are written with some fun and sexy banter for the two, it is just that there is very little chemistry between them. This is not any fault of the actors themselves. (Q and Jackson’s scenes together breezily sell their relationship and history.) Q and Keaton do their best, and sometimes there is a brief spark between them, but every now and then a pair of actors don’t have that indefinable thing that allows them to click on screen. This is unfortunate, as the interplay between the two is one of the cruxes that The Protege hangs upon.