Take two incredibly charismatic people, give them characters to play who don’t like each other for some reason, put them in danger, have them find a common bond through being forced to work together, and then happy ending. It’s the most basic recipe in Hollywood writing history, and it’s what you are going to get in The Hitman’s Bodyguard.
The plot is that the former ruler of Belarus (Gary Oldman) is on trial at the Hague for crimes against his people, but all of the witnesses being brought forward are being killed or have no definitive evidence. Darius Kincaid (Samuel L. Jackson) is a former hitman currently serving time in a European prison who has some evidence on the former despot, but when Interpol agents try to get him to the trial the convoy is attacked. With no other recourse, Interpol Agent Amelia Roussel (Elodie Yung, Electra from Netflix’s “Daredevil”) calls up her ex-boyfriend Michael Bryce (Ryan Reynolds) who works as a bodyguard to get him to the trial on time.
The one saving grace in The Hitman’s Bodyguard is the raw charisma of its two stars. Casting Ryan Reynolds and Samuel L. Jackson in the two leads was partially an act of genius, in that it was probably the only move that could save this travesty of a script, and partially a tragedy, in that seeing these two do something that was actually good would be an amazing experience whereas here they were merely able to make the movie watchable. In my review of Logan Lucky, I mention quickly the difference between movie stars and actors. What we have with Jackson and Reynolds are two movie stars, as they are just being themselves for the most part (Reynolds is forced more often into the straight man role here, so while he isn’t really acting, he is restraining himself), but they are being themselves at their most entertaining and showing a true chemistry which amplifies the hilarity of their banter.
Past the stars charisma and chemistry, though, what we have is one hell of a mess. First of all, the plotting is so by the book formulaic that there are no surprises to be had throughout the film. To say The Hitman’s Bodyguard is predictable is practically an understatement. The only questions asked while watching the movie is not if the next thing we see will be an overused action cliche’, but which exact cliche’ are they going to use next?
Past the cliche’s we have the ludicrousness of the plot. The hitman has to get to the Hague because all the other witnesses against Belarus’s former leader are being killed, so how does sending hordes of thugs with guns shooting up major population zones, blowing up speeding cars, and generally making a loud, deadly spectacle of themselves help the case of the defendant? Wouldn’t someone on the prosecution make some sort of case that all the witnesses for the prosecution are very obviously being attacked by an army? That’s only one of the more obvious logical problems in a plot filled with them just to give our heroes chances to give one liners while they shoot things and drive really fast.
The tone is also all over the place. One scene will be practically Looney Tunes level comedy while others will give us actions which are downright disturbing. Director Hughes seems more concerned with tone on an individual scene basis and doesn’t care how it will affect the flow of the film as a whole. One scene will give us a gruesome mass murder including children while the next will give us violence more akin to what we’d see in Tom & Jerry as mellow 80’s music plays in the background. It’s sloppy and distracting.
The action itself is hit or miss. Some scenes will be well shot and exciting, while others make too much use of close up shaky camera work. There is a boat chase scene through the streets of Amsterdam late in the film which, if you can throw logic out the window, is very well done and one of the few scenes which make The Hitman’s Bodyguard worth watching, but far too many action bits are shown with no attempt to ground our vision and the camera work’s intention is less to thrill us and more to hide the fact that Reynolds and Jackson aren’t really doing their own fight scenes.
Finally, amidst the cliched themes of two opposites not really being opposites at all and becoming best of buddies by the end, a very interesting question is raised at one point in the film. Jackson turns to Reynolds and asks him (I’m paraphrasing) “Which is more evil? The man who kills the bad guys? Or the man who protects them?” It’s a really good question, and would be an excellent theme for this film to explore. Unfortunately past that one line the question is never even touched upon again, serving only to frustrate with the knowledge that the writers did recognize that there could have been real depth to this story, but they decided to throw it out the window and give us brainless tripe instead.
Final verdict: The power of personality is the only thing which elevates The Hitman’s Bodyguard to the level of mediocrity. If you want to shut your brain off completely and just enjoy two very humorous men bantering and shooting things, then The Hitman’s Bodyguard will scratch that itch. However, with this summer delivering us so many smart action movies and comedies, I can’t recommend even to those The Hitman’s Bodyguard unless you’ve also seen all the others first. Never dull but always dumb, that’s how I’d describe this movie as succinctly as I can.