They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. What happens when that imitation is a cry for attention, masquerading as an entertaining action film? Does it get points for trying, or is it knocked down for missing the point entirely? Imagine putting Midnight Run, Shoot Em Up and John Wick in a blender and then making a movie of the discarded corpses without an understanding of “tone.” That film is The Hitman’s Bodyguard.
Michael Bryce (Ryan Reynolds) is a former AAA-rated “Protection Specialist” who’s fallen on hard times. Whilst attempting to keep up appearances, he’s contacted suddenly by his ex, a junior Interpol agent. Turns out she is in desperate need of help moving a witness to court. Their testimony is required to put away a foreign despot (Gary Oldman.) The witness in question is Darius Kincaid (Samuel L. Jackson), the world’s deadliest assassin. Serving consecutive life sentences, he’s strong-armed into cooperating, in exchange for his wife’s release from prison on trumped-up charges.
Of course, this being a buddy comedy, both the men have a long history with each other. Bryce states that Kincaid has tried to kill him on 28 separate occasions. What follows is an international race against the clock, fraught with obstacles at every turn. It’s an engaging enough premise, potentially filled with equal parts action and pathos. Well, were it not for the almost one million other variations that preceded it, that is.The Hitman’s Bodyguard is never really more than a copy of a copy of a copy of a copy. Seeing as its been done countless times before, a new element has to be added to the equation. The only attempt at updating is in the form of the stars who inhabit the lead roles. Those two characters, roughly, are supposed to be the lifeblood of the film, their interactions burning a hole through the screen. While there is some friction and a smolder or two, the spark never truly ignites.
Blame that on a script from Tom O’Connor that fails to establish a coherent tone. In addition to needless plot embellishments, there are fits of insanity that fly in the face of the moments that surround it. Numerous features in the past decade have found a way to delicately balance the ridiculous with the logical. Often this comes in the form of some basic ground rules or world building. The Hitman’s Bodyguard has no interest in either aspect.
What the film does excel at is posing questions to sap the audience’s attention. Does the movie require Salma Hayek when her character doesn’t even need to be seen? Why cast Gary Oldman in a film where everyone is granted the chance to go ham, save for him? How many flashbacks can any movie bare the weight of before it collapses? 6? Because The Hitman’s Bodyguard has more than 10.Even the cinematography comes off as rather pedestrian, painting the sort of movie that relishes in aerial shots of beautiful foreign cities with big bold titles slapped over them. What’s even stranger is that half the scenes have what appears to be a hazy smeared sheen to them. Probably due to some weird post processing effect, it distracts more than it delights. If it’s an aesthetic choice, it falls in line with the numerous other missteps that The Hitman’s Bodyguard makes feel at home.
In a film like this there’s never the worry that the anyone is going to be bold by potentially knocking off one of the stars… maim or incapacitate, sure, but never kill. By going this route it saps tension from most, if not all, set pieces. Instead, it becomes about “how” they survive. In a revamped action landscape that places a focus on brutality and quick cuts over wide-sweeping camera work, The Hitman’s Bodyguard hits the mark. Close quarters combat steadily fights ramp up as the film chugs along, and there’re a couple rather thrilling car chases. Again, these get bogged down by odd added flair, in hopes of eliciting the slightest of chuckles.These jumps in logic or tonal discord could cause a momentary reevaluation of what the film wants to be, but then it flip-flops at the last second. All that does is breed chaos. That’s almost alright, because to distract the audience from the litany of plot holes, weird beats or the thousandth use of “motherfucker,” is a bevy of songs from the last 60 years. Like the rest of the problems, though, the choices are too on-the-nose. It doesn’t help that they get more frequent as the action reaches a fever pitch.
The Hitman’s Bodyguard is maddening given there are a handful of elements that work, underneath the absurdity it sometimes wants to revel in. It’s certainly not a film worth taking a bullet for.