by Philip Price
Director Patrick Hughes has three directorial credits to his name; one I've never seen, another the watered down third installment in the ‘Expendables’ franchise, and a third in this late-in-the-summer entry cleverly titled “The Hitman's Bodyguard” that seems intent on capitalizing on the penchant of its two stars for choosing cheap and easy over challenging and risky. Such choices typically provide audiences a few laughs and producers failed financial returns so why Lionsgate thought this might be the exception to the rule is uncertain. Whether it be Ryan Reynolds in disasters like “R.I.P.D.” or the mildly intriguing but woefully undercooked “Self/less” to that of Samuel L. Jackson in any number of the projects he tends to choose in between Tarantino and Marvel flicks the fact of the matter is it seemed obvious what we were getting into from the moment the first trailer for “The Hitman's Bodyguard” was released no matter how much of a surprise it might have felt like it could potentially be. Sure, the premise is cute, but sole screenwriter Tom O'Connor does little to nothing with the main idea and mostly puts the naturally charismatic personas of Jackson and Reynolds into tired buddy cop scenarios that result in a stale story and a bland experience that is neither consistently funny enough for us to excuse its formulaic narrative or dark enough to challenge us in unexpected ways. This brings to light the real issue going on within “The Hitman's Bodyguard” in that it doesn't have a real idea of what it wants to be. Rather, Hughes pulls O'Connor's obviously uneven script in so many different directions that it ultimately fails to succeed in any one of the many genres and/or styles it attempts. I'd like to imagine that Hughes really thought he was pulling off something special and legitimately fun by getting back to the kind of balls to the wall, abundance of blood, unafraid to show death in spades-type action movies that Steven Seagal, Nicolas Cage, or even Harrison Ford might have made twenty some odd years ago, but while Hughes shows us these tendencies time and time again they are either executed so poorly they render themselves empty or they don't lean far enough into any one genre so as to play to the strengths of the tropes of that genre-remaining somewhere in the middle of all these things it wants to be without actually being any of those things. Honestly, it will be a wonder if the film leaves any impression on viewers other than how its use of soundtrack rivals that of last year's summer movie season closer, “Suicide Squad.” That's the only thing I'm still laughing about; its blatant disregard for how such tools are supposed to be utilized which, coincidentally, effectively summarizes the root cause of everything that goes wrong in this movie.
The film begins by informing us Reynolds' Michael Bryce, a AAA rated executive protection agent, is very good at his job until he's not. An opening montage treats us to Bryce saying farewell to an Asian arms dealer-believing he has successfully completed his job-only to see that status come crumbling down in the blink of an eye. Cut to two years later and Bryce is serving as protection for coked out attorneys who have him driving around in cars that smell like ass and blaming his ex-girlfriend, Interpol agent Amelia Roussel (Elodie Yung), for his steep decline in credibility as he believes it was her who gave out the information it was he who was protecting the highly sought after Asian arms dealer. While Bryce is drowning himself in his tears of misery (and probably warm apple juice as well) Amelia is out kicking butt and taking names or, in other words, doing what she can to climb the ladder at Interpol the only way she knows how which, one would think would seemingly be through hard work, determination, and all that jazz. Amelia is getting the opportunity of a lifetime where she might display her aptitude for such work when Interpol director Jean Foucher (Joaquim de Almeida) places her in charge of transporting Darius Kincaid (Jackson), a well-known hitman whose reputation precedes him, from his holding cell to a court hearing where he is set to testify against an evil Eastern European dictator named Vladislav Dukhovich (Gary Oldman). Kincaid has agreed to testify against Dukhovich only on the terms that his wrongfully accused wife, Sonia (Salma Hayek), will be set free to which Foucher and his Interpol superior, Renata Casoria (Tine Joustra), agree to. As these things go though, Amelia's caravan is hijacked by a gaggle of assassins that seemingly only know where Kincaid is due to an inside man on the Interpol side of things. Narrowly escaping the ambush Amelia and Kincaid flee to a safe house where, due to the fact her agency has been infiltrated, Amelia swallows her pride and contacts an outsider in the form of ex-boyfriend Bryce in hopes that he might agree to finish escorting Kincaid from the United Kingdom to the International Court of Justice in the Netherlands. Bryce agrees on the condition Amelia restore his triple A rating and thus we're off where laughs and action should ensue. If you know the drill you can probably guess how this thing plays out.
There is something the movie tries to get at concerning how we see ourselves as the hero or as the villain as both Reynolds and Jackson's characters see themselves equally sharing the hero spotlight, but who view each other as an archetypal antagonist to their honorable intentions. In this effort, neither of the marquee stars do anything that make their efforts shine above the other-in fact, Reynolds and Jackson are very much on the same wavelength about what type of movie they are in and how they are cultivating the obvious arc their two characters will follow, but Jackson gets more of the genuine laughs whereas Reynolds is asked to play Bryce as this uptight, by the book-type of bodyguard that is essentially a control freak. In playing up this angle of Bryce's personality Reynolds is then kind of forced into this persona that isn't inherently funny or sarcastic which is where the actor's strengths lie (and this is the kind of movie that should play to everyone's strengths), but more Reynolds is supposed to be the guy who does funny things on accident or is funny because the audience is laughing at his ridiculous tendencies and not because the character himself is a funny guy. This relegates Reynolds to something of an awkward balance for most of the film while Jackson can play the free-wheeling, dirty-mouthed, fly-by-the-seat-of-his-pants renegade anyone purchasing a ticket to this movie expects him to be. Jackson, being the kind of indestructible smartass as well as the more senior member of the duo, has the upper hand in the relationship and thus lands more of the laughs due to little more than him finding a handful of different ways to emphasize the words we've all come to love to hear the man say. Jackson also gets some solid scenes with Hayek who plays somewhat against type in the film as Kincaid's equally potty-mouthed wife who is sitting in prison with a poor excuse of a cellmate that she tortures despite the fact we're to believe she is innocent of whatever crimes she has been charged with. And while it is fun to see both Hayek and Jackson let themselves go it is a pity Reynolds wasn't given better material to work with based on the traits imposed on him. Also, criminally wasted here is Oldman who, as the true villain of the piece, is barely utilized and asked to do little more than put on a fake Russian accent and be as ruthless as one can imagine for a few scenes so that we have a third act conflict our two leads can agree needs to be finished in the same fashion. If you've seen a movie, any movie really, in the last few decades or so you'll know where “The Hitman's Bodyguard” is headed, but this is mildly disappointing due only to the fact it seems O'Connor began with the intent of using a tried and true template to say something interesting about perspective and how a hero to some might not be a hero to all, but rather than thinking too hard about how to explore those more complex ideas in an action flick he decided to instead take the easy way out and adhere to what has come before.
“The Hitman's Bodyguard” could be equated to semi-flavorful junk food that revels in its abundance of f-bombs and bloody, bloody violence. The movie also looks terrible as most of it seems to have been shot on a green screen where the lighting is blown out in hopes of hiding any discretions between the actors and the background. This is not without exception as there are two bonkers action scenes near the end of the film including a boat chase and a single shot hand-to-hand combat scene that would have worked to the films advantage were it to explore those previously mentioned themes, but again-the movie takes the easy way out. Of course, it's not totally the easy way because, as stated, the movie tries to have it both ways-dare I even say three ways, but it doesn't exceed in any facet. The movie wants to be this ballistic action film while on the other hand it has ties to being a dark comedy and while it certainly goes to some dark places it is never funny enough to make us feel comfortable to laugh at the situations it presents. Also, it's just not that funny. There are a few inspired moments courtesy of the chemistry between Reynolds and Jackson but mostly this is an excuse for Lionsgate to show off how many music rights they can put it in one film and how they can make all that money back plus some with a generic actioner in the middle of August that stars Deadpool. “The Hitman's Bodyguard” is one of those movies where you're happy people were paid and got jobs on a film of such scale, but at the same time wish the studio might have spent the money on something a little more worthwhile; a little more substantial or at the very least a little more entertaining. Add to the dark comedy/bloody action thriller aspects the fact the film tries to also throw in a little genuine heart, but instead of offering a way in which this weird hybrid might work this too only plays as false as we are never genuinely made to care about any of these characters. The worst part of trying to cram so much into a rather flat presentation is that it feels like it overstays its welcome. There is literally no need for the movie to feature the final action sequence it does because all it does is undo the momentum the previously, well-executed action scene provided. Hughes can't seem but to take advantage of his top notch cast and egregious green screen for a few more minutes though, as he allows Jackson to toss out a few more expletives as well as deal a death wish that I still can't tell whether it was meant to be as intentionally cheesy-looking as it did or not. It's evident from about the time Jackson shows up that this is not going to be a quality cinematic experience, but rather one that we'll soon forget if not because there aren't glimpses of the movie trying to do something with its fun premise, but because it is largely executed so poorly.