By Lynn Venhaus
Despite a few fine actors who wring out decent performances, “The Protégé” is a convoluted and ridiculous late-summer action-thriller throwaway with too many characters, loose ends and nine lives.

 Rescued as a child by Moody (Samuel L. Jackson), Anna (Maggie Q) has become an assassin too – hence, the title (Duh). When he’s brutally murdered – not a spoiler – she seeks vengeance in a fact-finding mission on why.  Caught up in a complicated web of intrigue, she plays cat-and-mouse with a hired gun on the other side, Rembrandt (Michael Keaton).

Slickly directed by Martin Campbell, who is more focused on style than substance, the movie combines quicksilver martial arts combat with blazing bullets ripping people open in high-powered gunfights. Let’s mow people down first, get a few answers later.

The testosterone-heavy script by Richard Wenk, who wrote both “The Equalizer” reboot in 2014 and its sequel four years later, shrouds all characters in mystery.

Jackson plays cranky Moody, a crackerjack hired killer who has mentored a young Vietnamese orphan girl, Anna, that he saved in Da Nang. On the plus side, Wenk did write some sage advice from Moody, delivered as only Jackson can.

The beautiful lethal weapon Anna is now an expertly trained cold-blooded contract killer whose side hustle is a rare book shop in London. Action star Maggie Q (TV’s “Nikita”) is a cool and composed heroine, always one step ahead of the enemy.

When the going gets rough, Anna is forced to return to her homeland, a place she never wanted to see again, and with the help of grizzled biker Billy Boy (Robert Patrick), she tracks down powerful rich old white men pulling the strings. The who, what, why remain fuzzy — just minor details as long as they are in fancy houses in plush locales being attended to by a gaggle of generic yes men acting tough.

Wenk wants us to believe Anna has met her equal in Rembrandt, played with a wink by the unlikely Keaton, cast against type. Not exactly in his wheelhouse, but then again, also not disappointing — even though it’s a strikingly odd couple.

Keaton manages to deliver some quippy wordplay that doubles as foreplay when he and Anna meet oh-so conveniently at several spots. There is a magnetic vibe – but we’ve got gunplay to shoot that all to hell.

Follow the blood.

She’s silky, he’s smooth – and for an old white guy, he can bust a move. Well, at least his stunt double can. The Oscar-nominated actor would look more at home as an accountant.

Campbell’s coasting on his action blockbuster reputation here. After all, he introduced Pierce Brosnan as James Bond in “Goldeneye” and Daniel Craig as 007 in “Casino Royale” – but also directed the epic fail “Green Lantern.”

Nevertheless, he can deftly stage an action sequence and come up with interesting demises for the bad guys. Just kinda yucky to watch.

Without the appealing trio of Jackson, Keaton and Q, “The Protégé” would be indistinguishable from a long line of cinematic shoot-‘em-ups.

Flitting between Vietnam, Romania and England in the first 10 minutes does no one any favors, just makes the scorecard longer when you’re trying to connect the dots.

As unsentimental as this film is about running away from childhood trauma, there is a heavy-handed scene involving a gruesome beheading and extended mass bloodshed that’s pointless. We should have been spared.

Trying to lighten the mood, the filmmakers add snippets of pop songs that intrude at inane times. Note to them: No need to mimic Quentin Tarantino because you can’t compare, so stop trying so hard.

The more the film unravels, the more absurd it becomes. While watching the top-shelf three is pleasurable, one hopes they could repeat the magic another time with a better script and a less-busy movie.

“The Protege” is a 2021 crime-thriller directed by Martin Campbell and starring Maggie Q, Samuel L. Jackson, Michael Keaton and Robert Patrick.  Rated: R for strong and bloody violence, language, some sexual references and brief nudity, its run time is 1 hour, 49 minutes. It opened in theaters Aug. 20. Lynn’s Grade: C-

By Lynn Venhaus

A civics lesson for the ages, writer-director Aaron Sorkin’s riveting account of “The Trial of the Chicago 7” is a potent examination of injustice during a politically charged time of civil disobedience. Through the lens of a riveting courtroom drama, the film is an acting showcase and one of the best films of the year.

And because the maestro is Sorkin, the film is also a discourse on cultural revolution and political theater, all while working in the confines of a true story. Because it is not a documentary, some of the timeline jumps around and incidents are embellished, but trial transcripts are used, along with archival footage, to create an authentic portrait.

In August 1968, several activist groups opposed to the Vietnam War converged at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago – the Students for a Democratic Society led by Tom Hayden (Eddie Redmayne) and Rennie Davis (Alex Sharp), the Youth International Party (Yippies) led by radical revolutionaries Abbie Hoffman (Sacha Baron Cohen) and Jerry Rubin (Jeremy Strong) and the National Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam (MOBE), led by older conscientious objector David Dellinger (John Carroll Lynch).  Bobby Seale (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), leader of the Black Panthers, is also present but not connected with the others. They, along with eventually acquitted Lee Weiner (Noah Robbins) and John Froines (Danny Flaherty), are the Chicago 8. Seal’s case would later be declared a mistrial, thus leaving seven.

Demonstrators violently clashed with police in and around Grant Park, which was captured on live television and the reason for a courtroom circus the next year after Nixon was elected President. Using a new law, the eight are charged with conspiracy to cross state lines to incite a riot. 

The infamous 1969 trial, orchestrated by Nixon’s Department of Justice, is presided over by Judge Julius Hoffman (Frank Langella). The legal eagles are civil rights attorney William Kunstler (Mark Rylance) and Ben Weinglass (Leonard Shenkman) for the defense and Justice Department prosecutors Richard Schultz (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and Thomas Foran (J.C. MacKenzie).

The Trial of the Chicago 7. Mark Rylance as William Kunstler, Eddie Redmayne as Tom Hayden in The Trial of the Chicago 7. Cr. Niko Tavernise/NETFLIX © 2020

The casting is impeccable. Sorkin’s breakthrough was the play “A Few Good Men” in 1989, later a movie. Known for “The West Wing,” he won an Oscar for best adapted screenplay for “The Social Network.” With his fast-paced dialogue and customary insightful monologues, Sorkin’s original screenplay now vaults to leading awards contender. It is a marvel of nuance and first amendment passion, focusing on change – how people make it happen.

Sorkin immerses us in the atmosphere of the ’60s volatile times, as dissent grew throughout the country. Martin Luther King Jr. had been assassinated in April, followed by the killing of presidential candidate U.S. Sen. Bobby Kennedy two months later. More anti-war activists took to the streets when the conflict in Southeast Asia escalated. But “the Establishment” attacked free speech and peaceful protests, fearing anarchy and widespread unrest.

His dialogue, nimbly spoken by this extraordinary ensemble, astutely advances character development and shows the duality of law – when it works in a courtroom, and when it doesn’t. With such a large cast, Sorkin has managed to bring out the distinct personalities of the iconoclast rebels.

Sorkin has shrewdly opted to concentrate only on the present with the major defendants, providing little backstory to their rise as movement leaders. While everyone snugly fits their roles, stand-outs are Eddie Redmayne as fervent Tom Hayden, convinced working inside the system is the right conduit for progress, and Sacha Baron Cohen as the mouthy disrupter Abbie Hoffman, who mastered media for his own purposes. Their different approaches lead to confrontations but ultimately, they are on the same page.

As the clearly biased tyrannical judge, Frank Langella is chilling as a man who thinks he does not discriminate but his cruelty to Seale suggests otherwise. Mark Rylance, Oscar winner for the 2015 “The Bridge of Spies” and three-time Tony Award winner, will likely score nominations for his remarkable portrayal of impassioned lawyer William Kunstler.

Abdul-Mateen II, who won an Emmy for HBO’s “Watchman,” is powerful in his silence as Seale and bears the brunt of the injustice during the trial. Seale, who co-founded the Black Panthers in 1966, was just in Chicago to give a speech and did not know the other guys.

Alex Sharp excels as the dedicated Rennie Davis, who is less flashy than the other counterculture activists but whose involvement is significant nonetheless. Sharp won a Tony Award for “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” in 2105.

Sorkin had only directed once before, 2017’s “Molly’s Game,” an uneven but interesting account of a true story. For this legal drama, he keeps the courtroom scenes taut and the street scenes intense and chaotic.

Sorkin gets terrific assistance from cinematographer Phedon Papamichael, who shot last year’s “Ford v. Ferrari,” and editor Alan Baumgarten, known for other Sorkin films and “American Hustle.” Composer Daniel Pemberton scores the action with the right tempo without using popular protest music from the times.

As an important acknowledgement of this case in America’s evolution, “The Trial of the Chicago 7” conveys precious civil liberties. And demonstrates what makes compelling stories – Americans speaking out, what inspires revolution and why civil discourse matters.

Sasha Baron Cohen and Jeremy Strong as Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin

“The Trial of the Chicago 7” is a courtroom drama based on real events, directed and written by Aaron Sorkin. It starts Eddie Redmayne, Frank Langella, Sacha Baron Cohen, Jeremy Strong, John Carroll Lynch, Alex Sharp, Michael Keaton, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, J.C. MacKenzie and Ben Schenkman. Rated: R for language throughout, some violence, bloody images and drug us, The runtime is 2 hr. 10 min. Lynn’s Grade: A
Available in select theatres Oct. 9 and on Netflix Oct. 16.