Calvin Law reviews Patrick Hughes’ action-filled comedy.
Starring Ryan Reynolds and Samuel L. Jackson, The Hitman’s Bodyguard features an exciting and inspired onscreen comedic pairing. Despite this, the film is one of the more frustrating action comedy efforts in recent memory. Not that it’s terrible, and there are moments where it genuinely shines, but considering the calibre of its leading men and the potential of its titular conceit, it could have been so much better.
The plot goes through familiar motions from the very start: the titular bodyguard, Reynold’s executive protection agent Michael Bryce, has fallen from grace after — you guessed it — the assassination of a client. Fast forward a couple of years and he’s down on his luck, using his overqualified brains and brawn to help shady corporate executives (including a wasted Richard E. Grant). Estranged from his ex-girlfriend and Interpol agent Amelia (Élodie Yung), the chance for redemption comes to him served on a platter. Help escort a witness giving testimony against a devious Russian dictator (Gary Oldman) to the UN, and Bryce can regain his coveted triple A rated status. The problem is that the witness is infamous hitman Darius Kincaid (Jackson), with whom Bryce has had a fair share of tussles on the job, and who is the polar opposite of him personality-wise. Kincaid is stubborn, reluctant to accept Bryce’s help (he’s never without a vulgar quip or snarky remark to throw the agent’s way), and likes nothing more than a good old fashioned shootout to spice things up. Bryce, on the other hand, always looks for the safest and most secure way of getting out of sticky situations.
Patrick Hughes, who also directed the truly terrible The Expendables 3, once again largely fails to make any impact on the directorial front. Whether it’s a painfully disorientating shootout in London, or a tepid car chase through Amsterdam, the film never quite seems to have a grasp on any of its action sequences. For a film with a surprising fair amount of bloodshed and violence — sometimes to the point of feeling tonally imbalanced (lots of what Oldman’s character does seems a bit too dark for this sort of comedy) — it all ends up feeling rather muted. Beyond the inadequate action scenes, the film also falters whenever it strays too far from its central concept: the whole villainous subplot never goes anywhere, with the king of the villains himself being sorely underused, and its attempts at dramatic weight towards the end fall a bit flat.
Where the film really does excel, though, is also its strongest selling point: the chemistry between Reynolds and Jackson, and the laughs derived from their rapport. Both create some truly hilarious moments out of very average writing. Whether it’s Darius recalling anecdotes of his favourite kills and giving love advice to his bodyguard, or Bryce stressing about his ridiculously over-exuberant client, both actors are just a great deal of fun to watch together. On his own, Reynolds’s fast-talking routine becomes a bit grating at a few points in the film, and the more serious side to his story doesn’t really work. Nevertheless, he’s frequently funny and often hilarious. Jackson is on absolutely top form here, milking every inflection of his foulmouthed catchphrase and making his invincible badass somewhat endearing — with some credit also going to Salma Hayek as his onscreen wife Sonia, an equally violent and foulmouthed convict who has a soft spot for tulips. Their initial meeting scene is one of the few inspired moments in the film’s writing and direction.
Far from being a good film on a technical level, The Hitman’s Bodyguard still sort of works through the strength of its two leading performances, and the laughs generated by them. Don’t go in expecting anything more than two very talented actors playing on their public image, and you’ll have a great time along with them.
The Hitman’s Bodyguard is out in UK cinemas now.