Review: Keaton’s lively performance lifts ‘The Protégé’ but only so much

Maggie Q in The Protégé / Arthur Sarkissian Productions

For the first two-thirds of its running time, “The Protégé” is not unlike a half dozen other assassin/spy/secret agent-type movies that you’ve seen before.

It’s not bad, nor is it boring, but the new film by director Martin Campbell and starring Maggie Q views a bit like it’s on autopilot until it doesn’t.

When Michael Keaton shows up in the last third of the film, he clicks off the cruise-control button and breathes new life into the movie as he tangles with Q’s Anna in a delightfully entertaining turn that reminds us why Keaton was so popular at the height of his career.

He is a star, and his wattage elevates the movie into a surprisingly good time at the cinema. That’s what stars do, even at Keaton’s advanced age of 69.

Keaton plays Rembrandt, a professional death-dealer who works for a man who wants to see Anna taken off the chess board of life. Rembrandt and Anna meet, they flirt, and they generate a good deal of friction despite the fact Q is 17 years Keaton’s junior. Rembrandt may be a killer, but he’s a suave and sophisticated one, who adds all the spice to this otherwise tepid movie.

As for Q’s character, Anna, she is an assassin trained since childhood by Moody Dutton (Samuel L. Jackson), her mentor who found and rescued her while on assignment in Vietnam. She’s backed up by Robert Patrick as a motorcycling-riding helper, who I also found more interesting than Q’s leading character.

Anna’s great at what she does, and what she does if fairly unbelievable, dodging bullets and harm like she’s a super hero, but she’s just just a well-trained, determined woman, who always comes out on top, even when she duels with an advisory like Keaton’s Rembrandt.

The film’s fight choreography is solid, but a bit numbing. You’ve seen similar before. Anna’s and Rembrandt’s tête-à-tête is far more intriguing than their fisticuffs.

Despite Keaton’s lively performance, the movie is hard to recommend on that alone, but it probably does make “The Protégé” worth watching once the film hits a streaming channel or cable.

(R) 1 hr. 49 min.
Grade: C-

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Classic Corner – The Mark of Zorro

Tyrone Power and Linda Darnell in The Mark of Zorro / Twentieth Century Fox

Turner Classic Movies’ annual August event “Summer Under the Stars” continues with Sunday’s slate of films dedicated to Tyrone Power.

Has there ever been a better stage name for the handsome heartthrob who was one of the top matinee idols from the 1930s into the 1950s?

I’d argue there is not a bad film among the scheduled features: 5 a.m. “The Rising of the Moon” (1957), 9:15 a.m. “The Long Gray Line” (1955), 11:45 a.m., “Witness for the Prosecution” (1957), 2 p.m. “The Razor’s Edge” (1946), 4:45 p.m., “The Black Rose” (1950), 7 p.m., “Blood and Sand” (1941) and 9:15 p.m. “The Mark of Zorro” (1940).

However, “The Mark of Zorro” has long been a favorite film of mine. I know I saw it before I entered elementary school in the mid-1970s, and while it might have been a bit lovey-dovey for me at that age, what was not like for a pre-schooler?

To my young mind, Zorro (Power) was a super-hero, a cowboy, and a pirate — the sword — all rolled into one. If he played some kissy-face with the lovely Linda Darnell as Lolita, I could forgive because of all the sword-play, fighting, and horseback riding.

Zorro, of course, is the alter-ego of Don Diego Vega, who returns from military service in Spain to his home in California, where a military dictator Luis Quintero (J. Edward Bromberg) and the wicked Capt. Esteban Pasquale (Basil Rathbone) have usurped control of his hometown from rightful Alcalde, Don Alejandro Vega (Montagu Love), Zorro’s father.

Vega, puts on a milquetoast act as Diego in order to investigate the situation undercover, but also dons the guise of Zorro to meet out Robin Hood-like justice on the wicked alcalde The character was created by pulp writer Johnston McCulley in 1919, and the Zorro adventures were one of the inspirations for both the Superman and Batman comic-book characters that would gain popularity in the late 1930s.

Superman’s secret identity of Clark Kent was essentially an update of the foppish Don Diego Vega, and Zorro’s swashbuckling antics and black garb no doubt influenced Batman, who traded in the black horse Tornado for his Batmobile.

The highlight of the film is Zorro’s showdown with Pasquale at the film’s climax. Their sword fight is one of the best ever committed to film. Rathbone, who may be best known for his reoccurring role of Sherlock Holmes in the 1930s-40s film series, was an expert swordsman as was Powers, and their prowess is on excellent display in the movie.

The film is fueled with action and humor, making it excellent entertainment for the whole family.