(CNN)”The Protégé” brings a few novel little touches to what’s otherwise a generic action vehicle for Maggie Q, in part by flanking her with Michael Keaton and Samuel L. Jackson. The result is a sporadically stylish, mildly unpredictable and thoroughly violent thriller where the principals seemingly endure at least as much punishment as they dish out.
Q has a knack for playing alluring assassins (the series version of “Nikita” being a prime example), so she’s not straying far from her comfort zone as Anna, brought up under the tutelage of Moody (Jackson), who rescued her as a child and essentially raised her in his lethal killer-for-hire image.After a mission that establishes just how good they are at their chosen profession, an attack leaves Moody out of the picture, and Anna hellbent on exacting revenge, never mind how many bodies pile up to get there.In theory, it’s all pretty familiar stuff, but veteran action director Martin Campbell (“Casino Royale”) and writer Richard Wenk (“The Equalizer” movies) have sought to spice things up where they can.Specifically, Anna’s relentless pursuit puts her at odds with another master of their trade, the world-weary Rembrandt (Keaton), who seems more interested in flirting with her than killing her (they bond over the sound of handguns), although their periodic meetings give him opportunities to try and do both.Read MoreMaggie Q and Michael Keaton in ‘The Protégé’ (Jichici Raul).”Trust me, you don’t want to know me when I’m testy,” Anna tells him, sounding a bit like the Hulk (for anyone who remembers the TV show), despite his understated warning that if she wishes to stay alive, it would be “unwise” to continue along her present course.Those modest exchanges aside, the accent for movies like “The Protégé” inevitably boils down to the action sequences, and they’re fast-paced, brutal and crisply executed, with the best coming after Anna has been subjected to waterboarding, putting her in an understandably foul mood.Jackson hasn’t been particularly discriminating of late when it comes to choosing material (witness “The Hitman’s Bodyguard” and its dreary sequel), but he can help class up the most basic of fare. Ultimately, though, this is Q’s show, and after a stretch busily occupied by TV series she credibly combines the visceral action demands with the vulnerability of someone who has endured plenty, as documented by too-frequent flashbacks.”The Protégé” likely won’t occupy theaters for long, but it’s the kind of unassuming effort that could enjoy a reasonably long shelf life. Just keep in mind that with this kind of movie, harboring anything more than modest expectations would be, well, unwise.”The Protégé” premieres in US theaters on Aug. 20. It’s rated R.