REVIEW – “The Hitman’s Bodyguard” Delivers Summer’s Last Great Ride
by Joe Hammerschmidt
In a summer that’s seen favorite franchises getting much earned rejuvenations, and silver screen versions of obscure source material earning their due, the more original scripts were required to step up and take their job more seriously. For the action genre, after Baby Driver, the only other entry that manages to reach a near-perfect sense of dizzying delirium is The Hitman’s Bodyguard. A concept that improves its effectiveness all fleshed out over on paper, no matter what the angle of the trailers would’ve led one to believe: Ryan Reynolds as a bodyguard with a once-stellar approval rating, forced to work with Samuel L. Jackson, portraying the one man responsible for indirectly ruining his career and lovelife. Think of it as an accidental buddy comedy; these two shouldn’t be friends, yet in the face of madness, there’s no one they could be closer to. And therein lies the sweet bliss throughout the picture, despite this pair being off their nut, their structured sanity proves the film’s buoyancy.
Michael Bryce (Reynolds) once carried a spotless track record as a AAA-certified executive protection agent, with a serious eye for details at every angle. Yet an unexpected loss, a helpless prime minister, unfortunately changed all that, lowering his approval rating. Flash forward two years later, when he reluctantly accepts a favor by former confidant and top-rank Interpol security agent Amelia Roussel (Élodie Yung). Her mission originating from London was to have transported notorious hitman and Bryce’s sworn enemy, Darius Kincaid (Jackson) to The Hague, for the sake of testifying against rogue Belarusian president Vladislav Dukovich (Gary Oldman) for a laundry list of war crimes and simply poor governing. Bryce is onboard knowing he can’t possible back out of a favor by his once closest comandant, while Kincaid just wishes to ensure freedom for his equally jailed sweetheart Sonia (Salma Hayek).
So yes, there is an energetic actioner motif to be found, with a challenge posed to director Patrick Hughes (The Expendables 3) to not make it look too formulaic. Regrettably, it does, yet to my surprise, that didn’t affect its otherwise jaunty nature. You’ll have scenes and settings which appear to have been used in other action movies like it (ex: any Steven Seagal movie in the 90s where he had been paired up with a much snarkier sidekick). The more violent fight scenes, and even a handful of clever “long tracking shots” make for quite the obvious statements; not that it’s all entirely a bad thing, it just could be much less overt.
Above the faulty base layer, a firmer middle area lands in Tom O’Connor’s impervious written words, coupled with the top layer provided by the actors. Words mean one thing, stunts that compliment written type is another, but Reynolds and Jackson are something else when the three mix together in a timely fashion. Separate, they firmly grasp the comic weight on their shoulders most professionally. Yet that is small potatoes compared to every second they’re paired, figuratively joined at the hip, if you will. Split them up, and one wouldn’t be treated to a sincere explosion of snark, by which the film benefits greatly.
Both are playing accidental heroes with a somewhat guilty conscience, aware they each could’ve done more to protect their own careers and lifestyles, yet instead their swipes had left them with one less reason to get up in the morning. Encountering each other, avoiding the desire to kill each other given their shared history, call it fate, but a redeeming fate, one where it’ll be impossible to stop laughing. With this casting, though, all the supporting characters do not seem to earn as much screen time. We barely get much sense into Dukovich’s history til the later third, keeping Oldman from leaving an impact; the moments we see with Hayek as Kincaid’s patient spouse are substantially genius, yet we simply don’t see enough of her throughout; Yung, on the other hand, truly went above what had been otherwise a one-note character, struggling to keep both Interpol and Belarusian officials happy during the proceedings.
Hughes and his actors make The Hitman’s Bodyguard an apparent hit-and-miss affair. It’s more cerebral than most, and increasingly more hilarious than any other film this summer (with Baby Driver still as the possible exception), yet it moves with the wayward grace of a clunker, unsure which direction to embark on and stick to a certain path that shows promise. Reynolds and Jackson wrangle in the soupy chaos they wander into like champs, keeping the mood light, and the air fragrant with laughing gas; yet the rest of the cast is left to kowtow before them. There will be times when my nitpickyness can likely inhibit my opinion towards a film, and this is no exception. However, with the summer season winding down, finding one last piece of plain ol’ harmless fun shouldn’t be as tough now, thanks to what was accomplished. The stupidity is played to the most intellectual degree possible, there’s a sincere warmth around it, and despite playing too close to a standard action film, not even trying to play the radical card, it’ll be difficult to avoid the good time that can be shared. Try not to resist, just let it happen, and be prepared for two hours of loveable nonsense. (B+)
The Hitman’s Bodyguard opens today at most area theatres; rated R for strong violence and language throughout; 118 minutes.