If you crave slam-bang action thrillers that seize you by the throat and sucker punch you from one scene to the next, then “Casino Royale” director Martin Campbell’s “The Protégé” (***1/2 OUT OF ****), co-starring Michael Keaton and Samuel L. Jackson, is something you must see. Maggie Q, who toplined the “Nikita” tv series (2010-2013), plays the eponymous heroine in this ballistic, globe-trotting, bullet ballet.

Cast as an orphaned Vietnamese lass named Anna, she learns all the tricks of the assassin’s trade from an unscrupulous killer who rescued her from certain death. Rarely does Anna let anyone get the upper hand in this pulsating, 109-minute, R-rated melodrama. “The Protégé” producers are the same bunch behind the Kate Beckinsale thriller “Jolt” (2021) and “The Expendables” trilogy starring Sylvester Stallone and Jason Statham.

Furthermore, scenarist Richard Wenk, who scripted Denzel Washington’s two “Equalizer” epics and “Magnificent Seven” reboot, embraces all the genre cliches with relish and gives our heroine’s adversaries some interesting farewell dialogue before she dispatches them to the morgue. One of the joys of watching “The Protégé” is knowing nobody could double for Maggie Q in her adrenalin-laced action scenes, because she is such a nimble gal.

Campbell orchestrates the pyrotechnics with flair so they are as alarming as an airbag that deploys by accident and leaves you sitting in something messy. Old school action fans yearning for surprises galore will savor the way Wenk refreshes stale genre cliches. Michael Keaton delivers a combustible performance as an austere villain.

He assures Anna he could put two bullets in her with no more thought than slapping together a sandwich. The former Batman star radiates an uncanny lethal menace. The chemistry between Anna (Maggie Q) and Michael Rembrandt (Michael Keaton) in their adversarial relationship heightens the suspense and takes some interesting turns.

“The Protégé” unfolds in Da Nang, Vietnam. Rainfall splatters Moody (Samuel L. Jackson of “Pulp Fiction”), dressed in a conical rice hat and a slicker, as he enters a warehouse. The hitman discovers the bullet-riddled remains of several pugnacious thugs scattered about the premises.

He hears something shift inside a nearby tall metal cabinet. Mustering his nerve, Moody aims his .45 automatic pistol at the door and opens the cabinet. A 12- to 13-year-old Vietnamese girl holds a Beretta P2 with both hands.

No sooner has Moody glanced in her eyes than she squeezes the trigger. Happily, the Beretta misfires! Clearing the mechanism, Moody gives the gun back to her. She aims again at his face. Mind you, this woebegone waif saw her entire family butchered by sadistic gangsters.

They beheaded her mom and dangled her head like a trophy in Anna’s face. Later, during the film’s ultimate showdown between Rembrandt and Anna at the same warehouse, Campbell and Wenk reveal how young Anna knew how to wield the Beretta with such skill.

She grows up and becomes conversant with all brands of firearms. Moreover, she can defend herself in unarmed combat with astonishing agility and frightening tenacity. A gimlet-eyed, free-lance, contract assassin, Moody knows all the right moves and serves as Anna’s friend and mentor. Not only is he a superb marksman, but he can also find needles in a haystack, no matter how big the haystack or how tiny the needle.

Moody celebrates his 70th birthday early on at his place on London’s outskirts. The wealthy assassin owns a quaint country mansion in the woods that comes with hired labor. Anna has baked him birthday cupcakes with a candle in one and surprises him with a present of B.B. King’s legendary Gibson Flying V guitar. Moody sets aside his drone toys and strums the instrument.

Afterward, he hands her the deed to the rare bookstore where Anna works when she isn’t assisting Moody in his bloodletting. Meantime, Moody has decided to investigate a long-standing case involving Lucas Hayes, the son of Edward Hayes, because Lucas vanished without a trace.

He pays a computer genius who works at a laundry to come up with information. Anna passes along Moody’s request for anything about Hayes. Unfortunately, the people hired to protect Hayes strike without warning. They barge into Moody’s mansion, shoot his cook, shoot him, and kill the computer expert at the laundry. They ambush Anna at her rare bookstore, but she survives through guile.

You won’t forget the scene where a villain armed with a machine gun jumps into his car without checking the back seat. Anna sits up in the back seat and puts a bullet in his head. The explosion of blood and brains on the windshield conceals the shattered remains of his cranium. Anna’s pistol sounds like a howitzer.

“The Protégé” puts our heroine through one wringer after another. Campbell and Wenk don’t pull punches, and the results are riveting, especially when our heroine finds herself fleeing from an army of gunmen.

Opening a water valve and inundating the floor, Anna disconnects an electrical cable and makes the spreading water puddle sputter with electricity. Charging headlong into the room, the hapless gunmen electrocute themselves. As they dance spasmodically in the puddled water, they blast each other into ribbons with their own bullets.

Lensed in Vietnam and Romania, “The Protégé” bristles with tough guys and scenic locations. Anna isn’t one of those heroines who escapes without a scratch. She bleeds red when she catches lead.

Campbell lays on the violence with a trowel. Ear plugs might be an option for some. The sound of a glass tabletop crashing with an explosive crescendo when Rembrandt and Anna smash through it during fierce, close-quarters combat may make your flinch. These highlights are just a few and should whet the appetite of anybody with a taste for white-knuckled actioneers.

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