davidehrlich’s review published on Letterboxd:
All due respect to the great Martin Campbell — the now-77-year-old New Zealander whose fine-tuned approach to action filmmaking at the studio level has resulted in “The Mask of Zorro” and two different (yet equally operatic) James Bond reboots that each outclassed their respective sequels — but there’s no excuse why a movie in which Michael Keaton plays a winkingly merciless henchman named Rembrandt should be as bland as “The Protégé.” The same could also be said of a revenge thriller in which Jackie Chan is hellbent on killing Pierce Brosnan, or a massive Green Lantern adaptation in which Ryan Reynolds and Blake Lively fall in love before our very eyes while saving the universe from a bulbous-headed Peter Sarsgaard.
Alas, none of Campbell’s previous misfires have promised more or delivered less than the newest film in the director’s career-extending Eastern Europe period, a late summer dud that stars Maggie Q as a sexy assassin, Samuel L. Jackson as her ailing mentor, and Romania as several different parts of Vietnam (a fully committed performance worthy of Daniel Day-Lewis, or at least Jared Leto). In other words, “The Protégé” is exactly the kind of junk that’s tempting to dismiss as a tax write-off — or at least it would be if not for the pedigree of the talent involved and the palpable effort that people on both sides of the camera so clearly put into their parts.
Campbell’s body of work may be scarred with self-inflicted wounds (e.g. “Edge of Darkness”), but even his bad movies belie the precision and integrity responsible for his good ones. While “The Protégé” might be destined to die a lonely death somewhere on the iTunes movie rental charts in the not too distant future, there isn’t a sequence in this film that fails to suggest why it might have been fun under different circumstances. Under these particular circumstances, the results only range from dull to deeply uncomfortable. Campbell is like a master chef trying to make a handful of random ingredients into a five-course feast because he knows this is one of the last meals he’ll ever be paid to cook, and all he has to show for his time in the kitchen is a mess of different flavors that don’t taste like much of anything when mixed together.