If you’re feeling nostalgic for a ’90s-style buddy action comedy with some early 2000s edge, “The Hitman’s Bodyguard” is the film for you. Recycling vintage character types, tropes and even politics, “The Hitman’s Bodyguard” already feels like you’re half-watching it on TNT on a Saturday afternoon.
Directed by “The Expendables 3” director Patrick Hughes, the script by Tom O’Connor could have been written in 2005 and never updated, as a ripoff Tarantino that thinks swearing stands in for wit, with the kind of casual sexism and objectification of women that movies got away with before we all got sick of it.
But this is a film that lives and dies on its stars, and Samuel L. Jackson, as the hitman, and Ryan Reynolds, as the bodyguard, working within their already well-established personas, make for a fine pair of unlikely partners, and hit a few well-placed punchlines with expert delivery. Jackson, in particular, is a treat to watch, whether singing Italian folk songs with nuns, or doling out love advice via speakerphone during a car chase.
The plot concerns testimony that the hitman, Darius Kincaid (Jackson), is supposed to give against a bloodthirsty Belarussian dictator, Vladislav Dukhovich (Gary Oldman). In exchange for the release of his feisty wife, Sonia (Salma Hayek) from a Dutch prison (it’s never explained why she’s in prison, however), Kincaid promises to offer proof of Dukhovich’s war crimes.
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When the Interpol transfer of Kincaid goes south, agent Amelia Roussel (Elodie Yung) calls up an old boyfriend for backup, an “executive security agent” who’s fallen on hard times, Michael Bryce (Reynolds). Bryce and Kincaid have a long and thorny history as adversaries, so their 24-hour jaunt from England to Amsterdam proves to be quite eventful. Thanks to Dukhovich’s thugs, who are trying to prevent Kincaid from testifying, it’s also violently action-packed.
It’s unfortunate that “The Hitman’s Bodyguard” hits U.S. theaters this particular weekend — it’s no fault of the distributor, but it’s unlikely audiences will be entertained by the multiple scenes of evil henchmen plowing vehicles through quaint city squares, mowing down innocent bystanders.
The film demonstrates a hypocritical attitude about murder — while Kincaid and Bryce race across town to indict a dictator for murdering civilians, they remorselessly leave a wake of bloody bodies in the streets. They’re bad guys, but the tricky morality doesn’t quite gel.
Moreover, the violence of “The Hitman’s Bodyguard” is thuddingly, exhaustingly dull. It’s not shot in any particularly interesting way, the cinematic geography is mush, and the stunts and action choreography are nothing to write home about. As the film pushes the two-hour mark, it just becomes a boring blur.
Speaking of blur — Hughes shoots every scene with open windows providing backlight, creating a gauzy haze throughout the whole film. It makes no sense why every scene looks like the lens has been smeared with Vaseline. It doesn’t even soften the edges of the brutally bad CGI.
The problem with “The Hitman’s Bodyguard,” aside from the dodgy filmmaking craft, is that this story is the least interesting tale to tell about these characters. The flashbacks, to Kincaid’s first kill, and his meet-cute with Sonia, are juicy snippets of stories that would have made for a better movie. This film should have traded the hitman’s bodyguard for his wife — she’s the most compelling character in it.
The Hitman’s Bodyguard
Rated: R for strong violence and language throughout. Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Samuel L. Jackson, Salma Hayek. Director: Patrick Hughes. Running time: 118 minutes. Theaters: Edwards 21, Edwards 9, Edwards 14, Edwards 12, Majestic 18, Village Cinema.