'The Hitman's Bodyguard'
‘The Hitman’s Bodyguard’ is a throwback. Essentially, it’s the 87th remake of ‘Midnight Run’, only this time with assassins, Sam Jackson, Ryan Reynolds, and European settings. It doesn’t try to break the mold. The filmmakers just want to bring that mold back into fashion. On those terms, the flick will work for anyone who enjoys explosions and one-liners.
Ryan Reynolds stars as Michael Bryce, a man who was once the greatest bodyguard in the biz. He prided himself on planning so thoroughly that even his most dangerous clients got home without a hitch. Then one of them got shot in the face and it all went to hell. Now he’s a slumming bodyguard who still kicks butt when he isn’t drinking and sulking. That’s just the place that action movie protagonists need to be in before a bullet-strewn redemption story. Opportunity arsis when Reynolds’ Interpol agent ex (Elodie Yung) needs to get infamous assassin Darius Kincaid (Samuel L. Jackson) from London to The Hague to testify against a war criminal (Gary Oldman). She can’t trust any of her fellow agents, so Bryce gets the call and then gets the chance to bicker and make friends with Kincaid over the course of a bunch of action scenes and travel chats. You know the routine.
‘The Hitman’s Bodyguard’ isn’t exactly the most original movie to hit screens this year. The plot is stock and everything else is exactly what you’d expect. However, the movie also unapologetically barrels through those old conventions and routines with such style and efficiency that it works. If you don’t like buddy action flicks, nothing here could possibly change your mind. All the clichés are checked off diligently. But if you do like this sort of thing, good lord is there ever fun to be had. Somehow, the director of the most boring ‘Expendables’ movie (Patrick Hughes, he made the third one) has concocted a relentless action soufflé that manages to deliver one gloriously goofy set-piece after the next. ‘The Hitman’s Bodyguard’ will scratch any and all action movie itches you might have, even if the script feels like it has been sitting in a desk for thirty years.
It certainly helps that this buddy duo has so much chemistry. These relationships are all built on contrasts and movie star personas. Ryan Reynolds’ relentless smarm and Sam Jackson’s bad motherfucker routine fill those slots nicely. Both can deliver a burn and swear-filled monologue with ease. Watching them rattle off on each other is pure pleasure, even when serving up stale zingers. They also both have considerable experience kicking butt and blowing stuff up, so they fit the genre like a pair of comfortably worn-in tennis shoes with bullet holes. Surrounding them is a surprisingly decent cast, even if their roles are inevitably even more stock. Gary Oldman snarls and screams his way through a ridiculous accent and cardboard villain with such blunt force that he makes an impression. Salma Hayek gets a hysterical extended cameo as Kincaid’s foul-mouthed lover that’s almost worth the price of admission on its own. Everyone on screen else either moves the plot along efficiently or is a stuntman getting hurt. It all comes together.
Of course, an action movie is only as good as its action, and goddamn are there some good set-pieces here. A boat/car/motorcycle chase through the cramped streets of Amsterdam offers some of the most gloriously explosive carnage to hit screens all summer (and at the fraction of most blockbusters’ cost; that’s good value for boom boom). Other brutal fist fights, shoot-outs, chases, misdirects, and glorious balls of fire all hit with similar impact. Hughes shoots it all clearly and edits succinctly for maximum firepower. The action is fantastic and relentless. Reynolds and Jackson may get plenty of time to bond through burns, but ‘The Hitman’s Bodyguard’ often feels like storytelling exclusively through set-pieces. They pile up and somehow consistently top themselves, culminating in a shot of Sam Jackson backed by flames that is one of the most badass images out of a career dedicated to that’s guys gift for badassery. (He also gets to deliver the line “There’s a plethora of motherfuckers,” which is pretty damn special.) This is what B-movies used to be and are supposed to be.
Of course, the movie isn’t without some problems. The plot often feels like little more than an inconvenience that the stars and stuntmen need to wade through. Logic gaps pile up, the characters never stretch past two dimensions, and there aren’t any particularly surprising twists. However, when Jackson and Reynolds exchange some spicy meatball dialogue and then deliver their seventh straight exciting action scene, it’s hard to care. ‘The Hitman’s Bodyguard’ gives you everything the posters and trailers promise and doesn’t screw any of it up. Stretching beyond the basics would have been nice, but given how rarely these basics get served up well these days, it’s tough to complain. This is what B-level buddy pictures with A-level stars and triple-A action are supposed to feel like. Be happy.