The Hitman’s Bodyguard movie review: protection racket

MaryAnn’s quick take: Reluctant-buddy action comedy feels like unfunny, warmed-over ’90s leftovers. Ryan Reynolds and Samuel L. Jackson look like they’d rather be elsewhere.
I’m “biast” (pro): love a good action comedy
I’m “biast” (con): nothing
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

The Hitman’s Bodyguard? What does a hitman need with a bodyguard? This seems to be one of those cinematic quandaries that gets posed because someone thinks it’s enigmatic and clever — like the classic “What does God need with a starship?” — but which is actually destined to become a cinematic punchline. And not in a good way.

The film’s working title: We Got Sweet Amsterdam Tax Credits.
The film’s working title: We Got Sweet Amsterdam Tax Credits.

It turns out that The Hitman’s Bodyguard doesn’t actually have a good answer to the question its title prompts. The movie posits that, because of shenanigans at Interpol, whose agents should be escorting him (even though Interpol doesn’t actually have agents), hitman Darius Kincaid (Samuel L. Jackson: Kong: Skull Island, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children) requires private security specialist Michael Bryce (Ryan Reynolds: Deadpool, Self/less) to transport him from Coventry, in England, to the Hague in the Netherlands so that he can testify against genocidal Belarusian former president Vladislav Dukhovich (Gary Oldman [Child 44, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes], very much slumming it) at the International Criminal Court. (This sounds so much more reasonable when I write it down than it does in the movie itself, and it still doesn’t sound very reasonable.) Anyway, of course the strongman will try to kill Kincaid before he can testify, and Dukhovich has simply armies of heavily armed goons roaming around Europe at the ready no matter where a target might show up. (I blame the EU’s open borders.) But everyone keeps saying that Kincaid can more than take care of himself, which he clearly can. And Bryce is pretty terrible at his job, even though he once had a “triple-A rating,” whatever that means: he falls for the same ruse twice that allows Kincaid to escape from his custody. So even if this hitman needs a bodyguard, which he obviously doesn’t, he doesn’t need this bodyguard, whom everyone keeps pretending, for some unknown reason, is such a pro, when he obviously isn’t.

Even if this hitman needs a bodyguard, which he obviously doesn’t, he doesn’t need this bodyguard.

So, wait: Why does Kincaid keep escaping from Bryce? I just saw the movie and even I can’t tell you. Kincaid may be a prisoner of Interpol — even though that’s not a thing, actually; Interpol doesn’t arrest people — for his own crimes, but he wants to testify, because Interpol has Kincaid’s wife, Sonia (a completely wasted Salma Hayek: Grown Ups 2, The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists!), in custody and promises to release her if he complies, which he must do on a short deadline. (We don’t know why she’s in Interpol prison, which does not exist. Her only serious crime seems to be her potty-mouth, which is meant to be funny, I think. There is no real purpose to her presence in the film, except to get some cleavage onscreen.) So what’s with the escaping? Both men have the same goal: to get Kincaid to the Hague on time. What’s with all the phonied-up conflict between them?

And now we come to the answer to that question that screenwriter Tom O’Connor and director Patrick Hughes (The Expendables 3) think is the correct one: A hitman who needs a bodyguard? What a hilarious basis for a reluctant-buddy action comedy! Except it isn’t. This feels like a warmed-over made-for-cable crapfest from the mid 90s, something that was just a little too late and a little too lame to catch that sweet Lethal Weapon/Die Hard wave. It’s painful watching Jackson in this and seeing the ghost of Die Hard with a Vengeance, which this movie wishes it was even a hundredth as smart and funny as. I also got a frisson of Midnight Run, one of the best studio comedies ever; there’s a snippet of music directly lifted from Danny Elfman’s fantastic score for that film, which is his best work ever. That’s a movie movies invoke at their peril: you do not want to remind us of that one unless you can measure up. Bodyguard has no hope of doing that.

Storytelling tip: Nothing says “action comedy” like a busload of nuns.
Storytelling tip: Nothing says “action comedy” like a busload of nuns.

Instead, Hughes manages to make even action sequences that are ostensibly fresh — like a speedboat-car chase around the canals and streets of Amsterdam — feel tedious and familiar. Things that are meant to be witty — like Kincaid’s magical subversion of a security system, and Bryce’s commentary on Kincaid’s overuse of a particular swear word — feel more like cheats and excuses for lazy storytelling. Trash talk substitutes for character development, and serves only to render both of these men repulsive and obnoxious: I don’t know whom we’re supposed to be rooting for here, or why. The script’s attempts to paint Kincaid as a “nice” hitman are repellent, and what passes for male bonding is laughable. Both Reynolds and Jackson are coasting, seemingly relying on the onscreen personas they bring in from other films to carry them along here, rather than putting in any new work.

The Hitman’s Bodyguard’s stars, in fact, look like they’d rather be somewhere else. And so should we be.

see also:
The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard movie review: kill me quickly…

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