Director: Patrick Hughes Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Samuel L. Jackson, Selma Hayek, Gary Oldman Running Time: 118 minutes
Movies won’t appreciate what they have in Samuel L. Jackson until he’s gone. Not the highest highs, the Djangos, but the long, long list of unmemorable, mediocre or outright awful productions that have been raised one bar higher by the sheer presence of Jackson and the level and legitimacy he brings to every performance. The Hitman’s Bodyguard is a better film than many of those, but it’s many rougher edges are a lot easier to look past when Jackson is cackling hard at the latest inconvenience he’s caused Ryan Reynolds, the titular bodyguard to his titular hitman. Recalling many of the dumb but cheerful odd couple action movies of the 1980, here the at-odds pair’s chemistry is just strong enough to prop up a deeply misguided plot international intrigue, which aims to be something like a comedic episode of 24 but is more like an episode of Chuck if they were allowed to say motherfucker.
Jackson plays the Very Screenplay Named Darius Kincaid, a top assassin who agrees to testify at The Hague about the war crimes of a Belarusian dictator (Gary Oldman), on the condition that his wife (Salma Hayek) be freed from prison. While Interpol agents are transporting the star witness, some of Oldman’s endless henchman attack and Agent Alenia (Daredevil’s Elodie Yung) decides to put Kincaid under the protection of her ex, Michael Bryce. As Bryce, Ryan Reynolds delivers a mopier version of his usual comedic schtick, talking about things “smelling like ass”, but in a more sad sack kind of way. Deadpool on a bad day. Bryce once had a self-appointed status as a “triple A rated protection agent” and as he sees it, plenty of reasons to dislike Alenia and despise Kincaid, but he agrees to help and arguments and explosions ensue.
Most of the action shown in The Hitman’s Bodyguard is pretty standard stuff and honestly, a lot of the comedy is a step staler than that. This a movie in 2017 that thinks that nuns on a bus is a surefire recipe for laughs, a movie that, whenever stuck for something to say, raises its eyebrow expectantly at Jackson, the trooper, until he says motherfucker once again. But very occasionally, the action and comedy intersect in entertaining ways, gratefully received sparks of life as Reynolds stealthily picks off assailants while Jackson casually strolls down the street, or Jackson lays waste to dozens in a chaotic scene in the background as Reynolds whines about his assignment in the foreground. It’s nothing especially creative, but it does have energy, the pair bounce off each other well and in fairness, Jackson really does know many fun ways to say the word motherfucker. It’s certainly more fun hearing him say that than when he’s calling Reynolds a “romantic retard”.
As dense as the sexual politics of The Hitman’s Bodyguard are, they look like expertise in comparison to its actual politics, which is where the film loses most of its points. While Reynolds and Jackson are trying to banter their way through a quick and easy buddy movie, the tone is spent wildly spinning by the actual plot and Gary Oldman’s appearances in it. There’s no real reason for a movie with this many fart jokes to revolve around the trial of a character committing genocide and anyone looking for an escape in their trip to the movies this weekend might not find solace in a climax that involves a truck ramming a public place, a case perhaps not of “too soon” but “too often” and certainly too real. Like Jackson’s enthusiasm, Oldman can flip a switch and be any kind of villain a movie needs, and this is a movie that would not have changed at all if the bad guy was just involved in the vague drug trade rather than war crimes in Eastern Europe. The performances ensure that The Hitman’s Bodyguard is more entertaining than it might seem at first glance, but there’s not enough room in this movie for them to stuff Odd Couple humour, mid-budget action and serious international incidents. After all, it’s already tried to fit in nuns on a bus.(3 / 5)