Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Samuel L Jackson, Salma Hayek
Director: Patrick Hughes
Running Time: 117 mins
Synopsis: Darius Kincaid (Jackson) the world’s top hitman, has been captured by Interpol. However when he makes it known he has important information that’ll help bring down notorious dictator Dukhovich (Oldman), he is sent to testify at the The Hague. Unfortunately Dukhovich has sent men to take Kincaid down, and the only one who can help is Triple A bodyguard Michael Bryce (Reynolds).
Watching The Hitman’s Bodyguard is akin to going back in time to the mid-90s. We have a non-franchise film featuring two charismatic leads, a wilful embrace of R-rated violence, an odd couple dynamic, mid-budgeted action scenes, copious use of the word ‘motherfucker’ and a hamtastic Gary Oldman as the bad guy with an extra dose of Russian accent. Even the concept, while not as high concept as 90s at its peak, is still pretty outlandish and ripe for OTT craziness. The pity is that nothing in The Hitman’s Bodyguard is quite as crazy as it thinks it is, with the script lacking that key Shane Black-esque pep that so vitalised those 1990s action-fests.
Refreshingly the story keeps things simple, none of that unnecessary convolution that so mires modern day action films (see last weeks Atomic Blonde for an example). Ryan Reynolds is a once world-class bodyguard, sired with low level jobs after one protection task ended in his employers death. Samuel L Jackson is a world-class (everyone here is apparently top of their fields) hitman incarcerated for his crimes. When Interpol approach him with an offer to release his also incarcerated wife (Salma Hayek delivering a performance of delightful unpredictable volatility) in return for testifying against brutal dictator Dukhovich, he leaps at the chance. Although immediate problems with the film arise upon Dukhovich’s introduction. A tense harsh sequence involving Oldman’s moustache twirling hamminess awkwardly sitting alongside a cold execution. It is representative of the films overall tonal inconsistencies. Jolly humour and wisecracking lines combined with images of genocide does not a fun film make. The high octane films this movie tries to emulate usually worked because they settled on what they were, Air Force One for example never went out of its way to make hilarious lines but rather its quips were borne out of the situation at hand, whilst never undermining the harsh violence that hit hard.
No sooner have we witnessed a family being murdered in cold blood we bounce back to Kincaid quipping hard as only Samuel L Jackson can (think ‘motherfucker’ every other word) as he is about to be transported to The Hague to testify. And yes before you ask his escort does get attacked in a action scene set in, of all places, Coventry forcing him to flee. Director Patrick Hughes (The Expendables 3) films his action sequences with a solid clarity, making sure the blows hit hard and the geography never mired in fast editing. Only one manages to reach close to memorable though, an extended set-piece through the canals of Amsterdam. Boats, bikes and jeeps get thrown around with gleeful abandon, with the only letdown being the noticeable use of a stuntman Reynolds thanks to his helmet visor being closed during the entire sequence.
Before all this though the film spends a good bit of time just shooting the breeze between the two of them. Forced together when Bryce’s ex Amelia (Elodie Yung), conveniently an Interpol agent, calls him up after realising her agency is compromised by the most clunkingly obvious traitor in movie history. Frictions exist between them due to Kincaid’s repeated attempts on Bryce’s life over the years, with Reynolds and Jackson having a ball selling the teasing animosity between them. Being such naturally gifted balls of charisma helps overcome the drastic shortcomings in the script. Written by relative newcomer Tom O’Connor, it frequently misinterprets swears and shouting for actual jokes, although in a arch post-modernism it does call attention to this fact. A few beats tickle the funny bone, but it takes the skills of its seasoned performers to find the heart of such thin material.
Reynolds gets the relatively straight man role here, and tackles the material with his usual swaggering confidence. It doesn’t exactly stretch him but he is always an eminently watchable actor, his delivery spiky with that token glint in his eye. Jackson gets the real meat though. His character oddly pitched as a woozy romantic who just so happens to be an unkillable machine (a neat running joke). The relationship sketched out between him and Hayek is efficient, fierce and a lot of fun. Jackson turns these character proclivities into something endearing whilst his gift of making everything he does seem like sheer joy to him is present and correct, gifting the film with a welcome dose of infectious joviality.
It’s a pity their enthusiastic performances are buried in a film unsure of itself and a script desperate to be clever. Certainly doesn’t help that the rest of their fellow cast members are so less invested. Gary Oldman sleeplessly going through the motions being the noticeable culprit. Salma Hayek, as mentioned, is having a ball but is too infrequently used to be of any real consequence. One more rewrite, by a perhaps stronger set of hands, could’ve turned The Hitman’s Bodyguard into a true revitalisation of what made films such as Air Force One, The Rock and Lethal Weapon sing. As it stands it’s a Weird Al Yankovic cover version, fun while it lasts and sporadically witty but you’d rather have the original version.
Verdict: Spirited performances from Hayek, Reynolds and Jackson just about lift this old-school action flick from becoming formulaic. However awkward tonal shifts and a lacklustre script seek to leech out most of the goodwill those 3 gift it.