There’s not much about The Hitman’s Bodyguard you haven’t seen in some form or another in preceding films. Lead character falls from grace and spends the whole movie trying to redeem himself? Been there. Two characters bickering constantly throughout and have to drop their egos to work together? Done that. Its plot, a race to an important destination amid heavy resistance? Hell, anyone remember Samuel L. Jackson 14 years ago in S.W.A.T.? Ryan Reynolds in Safe House and Smokin’ Aces? Even Gary Oldman dangles dangerously close to the repeato-game with his role as a genocidal maniac.
All of that said, The Hitman’s Bodyguard’s lack of originality is one of the few things you should dismiss when you plonk your movie money on the counter. (If there’s any proof it should be dismissed, just take a look at the studio-sanctioned poster image accompanying this paragraph.) Jackson and Reynolds figuratively and literally light up the screen in this delightfully vulgar, hilarious throwback to ‘80s action movies. Back when the buddy comedy-thriller was an excuse to dive into every character’s insecurities (and thus, the male audience members’ insecurities) amid explosions and bullets flying.
Yes, we all want our movies to be original and good, but what’s the problem with having one every now and again accomplish its mission merely to entertain? No higher brain, no symbolism, no underlying message – just a good ol’ fashioned, unapologetic shoot-‘em-up? That’s what we have in The Hitman’s Bodyguard, and boy, does it deliver it to us in spades.
It’s not as action-packed as the film’s advertising wants you to believe, but that’s not meant as a slight toward its big boom sequences. Rather, it’s a tennis match where we follow the comedy ball as it volleys between the two leads, disgraced protection agent Michael Bryce (Reynolds) and all-too-efficient assassin Darius Kincaid (Jackson). Bryce, whose stands by his motto “boring is better,” is damn good at his personal security job – he goes to extreme measures to shield his high-value, high-paying clients from seeing the uglier side of his task. When he loses one of them – and thus, and his “triple-A” rating as a security guard – he’s relegated to a lower-end clientele, an example of which gets portrayed by Richard E. Grant at his manic, drug-addled best.
The film puts the geography of England and the Netherlands to good use as international assassin Kincaid tries to survive a prisoner transfer from London to The Hague. He’s set to testify against Belarusian president Vladislav Dukhovich, which Gary Oldman plays as an older, slower version of his character Egor Korshunov from Air Force One. (That is, of course, if Egor had the opportunity to grow older – remember what happens after “GET OFF MY PLANE!”?) Interpol agent Amelia Roussel’s (Élodie Yung) convoy carrying Kincaid has been upended by Dukhovich loyalists, leaving her no choice but to call for outside help, especially after Kincaid maintains that Interpol’s been compromised.
Enter Bryce, her ex-boyfriend who blames her for his downfall in life, especially for her perceived betrayal of his dead client. It takes a little while for the first encounter between Bryce and Kincaid; when it happens, it unfolds like no other hitman/bodyguard film in recent memory. Bryce already has a grudge against Kincaid and acts out in doses of measured petulance, leading to a lot of the film’s well-earned guffaws.
Don’t expect Reynolds to play Bryce in a similar manner as Deadpool, though; Bryce is a little more soft-spoken and less obscene than Wade Wilson. It’s a muted performance, with visible points where you can see Reynolds about to go off; however, he reins it in, almost going too far to differentiate between the two roles. (If you’re into outtakes, stay through the credits – Reynolds will impress you with how long he has to hold his facial expression through an adverse circumstance.)
By contrast, Jackson plays Kincaid almost exactly as you’d expect – a laugh riot from start to finish. This is peak Samuel L. Jackson, boasting steely eyes, a big-hearted laugh, a loving soul, deadly aim, and “motherfucker”s galore. (Quite truly, this film’s full title should probably be The Hitman’s Bodyguard, Motherfucker!, seeing how often the word gets used – and even complained about.) He solidly anchors this film with his multifaceted performance as the killer who does what he does for the love of Sonia (Salma Hayek), his just-as-surprising wife. Of course, there’s going to be vulgar wordplay the likes of which you haven’t heard in a while, so prepare yourself, motherfucker. (Sorry. Got caught in the moment.)
The film itself isn’t without some head-scratching characteristics of its own. Its sleazy, blues guitar-driven, Walter Hill-esque score by Atli Orvarsson seems out of place, considering the European milieu and the kind of intensity this film exudes. This score would be perfect for a film set in the grimy alleys of an American city, but it won’t bother you too much as it picks up toward the end. Also, cinematographer Jules O’Laughlin’s choice to use infrequent haze-filtered shots seems odd, and one wishes the initial fight between Bryce and Kincaid could have featured the choreography with wider angles for full appreciation.
Director Patrick Hughes has improved a bit from the PG-13-rated The Expendables 3. He’s allowed to do a little bit more with this film’s R-rating, but he still hasn’t managed to go from “good” to “outstanding,” which The Hitman’s Bodyguard could have been with some changes. Two neat sequences featuring unbroken shots in the final third of the movie kinda make up for the choppily-shot and -edited action sequences of the first two thirds. The Hitman’s Bodyguard is a perfectly serviceable and rather fun film to catch with your buddies – you’ll be hooting and hollering at Reynolds, Jackson, and Hayek’s one-liners and comebacks, and the action is more than exciting enough to warrant a big-screen viewing.