By: Luke Parker, Columnist
According to “The Hitman’s Bodyguard,” the confidential and covert worlds of assassins and guardians are tightly interwoven. World-class bounty hunters can recount any kill with exact detail – as long as it keeps the story chugging forward – and men who get shot at can name the person behind the trigger. There are so many easy-way-out connections made between the film’s characters that behind the ear-pounding explosions and gunshots, drops of ink can almost be heard falling from Tom O’Connor’s hurried screenplay.
That being said, the film is what it promised to be: a hard R action comedy with just the right dosage of rowdiness and absurdity to keep audiences entertained.
As self-aware as it is, it’s not much more than that. The majority of the jokes that land can be accredited to Ryan Reynolds and Samuel L. Jackson’s tremendous rapport. Director Patrick Hughes displays his maturation as an action filmmaker, commanding the above-average sequences (as unbelievable as they may be) with much more poise than his previous venture, “The Expendables 3.”
It goes without saying that nothing in this movie should be taken seriously, a fact that leaves the great Gary Oldman out to dry. The “Air Force One” villain nearly duplicates his marvelous performance from the Harrison Ford thriller here, but this time, he and the story are not on the same page, and Oldman’s portrayal of the vicious, murderous dictator comes off as unseemly, not superior.
The film introduces us to Reynolds’ character, Michael Bryce, on the day his high-class life changes forever when his reputation as a AAA-certified bodyguard for high-profile clients is spoiled.
Cut to two years later, Bryce’s clientele has been reduced to drugged-up lawyers, and his Jaguar traded in for a cheap van. However, he is given a chance at redemption when his ex-girlfriend Amelia (Elodie Yung), an up-and-coming Interpol agent, hires him. She has been assigned to deliver incarcerated hitman Darius Kincaid (Jackson) to the International Court of Justice as a witness against Oldman’s Vladislav Dukhovich. But after a failed hijacking, she discovers a mole in the organization and needs the “out of the loop” Bryce, who still blames her for his disgrace – her name on his phone is “Pure Evil” – to finish the job.
Of course, Kincaid and Bryce have an intricate history; according to Bryce, the hitman has tried to “hit” him 28 times – which makes you question Kincaid’s credentials as a first-rate killer – but the closest he ever got was a flesh wound. All of these characters are idiotically connected in some way or another, a pattern which ruins almost every stale “twist” the film offers.
Fortunately, both Jackson and Reynolds have established their onscreen personas throughout their careers, and their bickering remains fresh throughout. The way Reynolds’ sarcastic attitude butts heads with Jackson’s traditional cockiness is this movie’s not-so-secret weapon, providing more laughs than anyone watching would have expected. The fact that audiences can stay entertained during a movie stretched out a half hour more than it should have been is a testament to the duo’s chemistry.
If there is another set that comes close to matching the impact of Jackson and Reynolds’ onscreen pairing, it is that of Jackson and Salma Hayek, who plays Kincaid’s also incarcerated wife, Sonia.
Kincaid’s flaw, if you can call it that, is his devoted sense of romanticism. Interpol offers Sonia’s freedom in exchange for his testimony, a bargain which he agrees to instantly.
Reynolds’ character is given a love story as well, revolved around his stubbornness and awkwardness with Amelia, but it is neither given the same attention nor executed as well as the Kincaids’ flawed alliance.
That’s pretty much how all of “The Hitman’s Bodyguard” plays out: uneven. Where one thing works, two others don’t.
The producers hit the jackpot with Reynolds and Jackson, whose battle of one-upmanship is worth the price of admission alone. But not even those two can save this film from being what it is – a mid-August action movie, destined for little more than TV slots and airplane rides.