Directed by: Patrick Hughes
Premise: A hitman (Samuel L. Jackson) agrees to testify against a murderous dictator (Gary Oldman) at the International Court of Justice. He’s escorted by a down-on-his-luck bodyguard (Ryan Reynolds) while the dictator’s henchmen try to kill the witness.
What Works: As an action-comedy, The Hitman’s Bodyguard delivers the basic thrills and laughs that the core audience will expect. Director Patrick Hughes demonstrates an aptitude for staging action set pieces. The chase sequences and shootouts have a gritty kineticism that is in keeping with the current trends in the action movie genre. The Hitman’s Bodyguard also succeeds in its paring of Ryan Reynolds and Samuel L. Jackson. Each actor is cast to his strengths with Reynolds as the fast talking good guy and Jackson as the hardened bad ass. Neither actor is stretching himself here but they are a watchable odd couple. The intent is to recreate the dynamic between Mel Gibson and Danny Glover in Lethal Weapon or Will Smith and Martin Lawrence in Bad Boys. Reynolds and Jackson mostly accomplish that. The Hitman’s Bodyguard also benefits from the casting of Salma Hayek as the wife of Jackson’s character. As funny as Reynolds and Jackson can be, it’s Hayek who gets many of the biggest laughs in The Hitman’s Bodyguard. The film has an appropriately dark sense of humor and when its comedy and violence are in sync the film achieves an enjoyable mean spiritedness.
What Doesn’t: The story of The Hitman’s Bodyguard is a mess. The film is just under two hours long but it ought to be at least twenty minutes shorter. Large sections of this film are redundant and don’t advance the plot. The movie is about characters getting from point A to point B on a deadline. The Hitman’s Bodyguard never capitalizes on the “ticking clock” plot device and there is no sense of urgency. In fact, the characters make illogical decisions and run away from their destination. The story has no momentum and a lot of this movie is a series of disconnected events. The wobbly narrative structure negatively impacts the comedy. The film is funny but it’s not consistent and the unnecessary length dilutes the jokes. The comedy is especially hurt by the film’s wayward tone. It doesn’t seem as though the filmmakers of The Hitman’s Bodyguard were ever quite sure what kind of movie they were making. It’s part Lethal Weapon but also part 3:10 to Yuma and at other points it becomes something much more serious. The dictator, played by Gary Oldman—who is utterly wasted in this movie—is on trial for crimes against humanity and in a flashback sequence we are made witness to Oldman’s character murdering the family of a political dissident. The intent is to establish the dictator’s evil bona fides and the filmmakers accomplish that but scenes like this belong in an entirely different movie. After that kind of realistic horror the filmmakers try to revert to the wacky slapstick violence of Reynolds and Jackson’s characters but the film never recovers its comic footing. The ending of the movie is especially misjudged with the film inserting a final plot twist that exploits fears of terrorism in a way that is not at all fun. This gets to a more fundamental flaw of The Hitman’s Bodyguard—this is a morally confused movie. The very title suggests some kind of moral conundrum; Reynolds’ bodyguard protects lives while Jackson’s hitman takes them. The filmmakers want this to mean something profound or at least imply moral ambiguity but the best they can do is fumble with half-baked dialogue and asinine character development that suggests Jackson’s character isn’t so bad. If there is a message here it’s completely lost and all the filmmakers manage to do is undermine the whole conceit of their movie.
Bottom Line: The Hitman’s Bodyguard has some competent action and a few laughs. But this movie is so clumsy in its storytelling, misjudged in its tone, and thoughtless with its ideas that the filmmakers negate everything they have going in their favor.
Episode: #662 (August 27, 2017)