Michael Keaton elevates 'The Protege' the minute he shows up

Adam Graham
The Detroit News (TNS)
Maggie Q stars in "The Protege." The movie opens Friday at Regal West Manchester, Queensgate Movies 13 and Hanover Movies 16.

There's nothing particularly special about "The Protege," starring Maggie Q as an un-killable master assassin, until there is.

That special comes along in the form of Michael Keaton, who slides into the film about a third of the way through its running time and changes it from a rote action vehicle into a waltz of sorts. And it just goes to prove the old saying, everything is better with a little bit of Michael Keaton. (Wait, you mean that's not an actual saying? Well, it should be.)

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Maggie Q plays Anna, who was raised to be an assassin by Moody Dutton (Samuel L. Jackson) after he finds her as a child on an assignment in Vietnam. She grows up to be one of those movie assassins who can be under fire from six guns and escape without being grazed by a single bullet. She's a construct, not a character.

Michael Keaton stars in "The Protege." The movie opens Friday at Regal West Manchester, Queensgate Movies 13 and Hanover Movies 16.

But then along comes Keaton as Rembrandt, a man who works for a man who needs Anna dead. Upon first meeting they flirt, which at first seems another bad example of Hollywood May-December coupling (Keaton is 69, Q is 42). But Keaton is so suave and so cool and so Keaton that it works, and the heat they generate from their push-pull dynamic recalls George Clooney's criminal and Jennifer Lopez' law woman in "Out of Sight," or Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie's married killers in "Mr. and Mrs. Smith." It elevates as their characters continue their dance.

Director Martin Campbell (the Bond flicks "GoldenEye" and "Casino Royale") peppers the action scenes with ace fight choreography, and Robert Patrick weighs in with a strong piece of character work as Billy Boy, a motorcycle-riding associate of Anna's. But it's Keaton's show, and he kicks "The Protege" up a notch and shows why in a world of students, he's a teacher.

'THE PROTEGE'

Grade: B

MPAA rating: R (for strong and bloody violence, language, some sexual references and brief nudity)

Running time: 1:49