Considering Samuel L. Jackson has been a prominent figure in American cinema for nearly a quarter-of-a-century now and also considering that Ryan Reynolds has become (after a couple of big box office duds that seemed to suggest he might not get there) Hollywood’s go-to leading man thanks to the rousing success of Deadpool, it feels like it was just about inevitable that the two would star in a movie together. They’ve managed to do just that with director Patrick Hughes (the guy who directed the third Expendables movie) new movie, “The Hitman’s Bodyguard,” an R-rated action film that allows both Reynolds and Jackson to drop all the buckets of profanity and hardcore violence that their past biggest movies are known for.
Michael Brice (Ryan Reynolds) is good at what he does. He’s a high-profile bodyguard for the government with a triple-A rating and he wants all of his missions to go off without a hitch. “Boring Is Best” is the mantra he lives his entire life by but that life gets upended when a major client he’s supposed to protect is shot and killed. Flash forward three years later and Brice is filled with regret. His career fell apart after that mission went sideways and he now does contract work protecting shadier clientele (which include one guy played by Richard E. Grant in a quick cameo) while his relationship with Amelia Roussel (Elodie Yung) also went down the drain.
Roussel, also a government agent, is actually being tasked with handling the transportation of Darius Kincaid (Samuel L. Jackson), a hitman who has killed well over 250 people (by his count) and has crossed paths with Brice on more than one occasion. Kincaid is being transported to a courthouse where he can testify against ruthless dictator Vladislav Dukhovich (Gary Oldman), a man who isn’t about to let Kincaid get to that location to testify. A group of mercenaries take out the transport holding Kincaid but the hitman and Roussel get away, with Roussel calling up Brice to take Kincaid to take over the mission and take Kincaid where he needs to go. This hitman and this bodyguard may not like each other but they’re going have to work together to survive this whole ordeal.
If that sounds like the basic premise for a buddy action/comedy, that’s because it is and it’s very much one that plays things by the book. One-liners, violence and internal conflicts that may just be able to be resolved by this mission all crop up in spades. There’s no problem in treading well-trodden genre tropes if you do them right, but even with two talented actors in the lead roles, “The Hitman’s Bodyguard” can’t help but feel like it’s sleepwalking through the motions here in terms of executing said tropes. Most notably, the writing (which is credited to Tom O’Connor) is typically serviceable but it rarely, if ever, gets better than that since there doesn’t seem to have been an extra spark of inventiveness in the characters or set pieces.
Just look at our big baddie, that ruthless dictator Vladislav Dukovich. Despite having silver screen legend Gary Oldman at their disposal, Dukovich is barely in the movie at all as he’s confined to a jail cell where he doesn’t get much of a chance to exude menace or even just deliver some delightfully hammy moments. The characters of Michael Brice and Darius Kincaid are similarly one-note caricatures that just aren’t all that interesting despite how much time is devoted to their personal backstories and internal conflicts, though both Ryan Reynolds and Samuel L. Jackson are able to liven them up a bit. I’m not asking for “The Hitman’s Bodyguard” to reinvent the wheel here in terms of its characters but I do wish they were more fun creations, fun really can go a long way in these type of action movies. In addition to all that, there are some notable pacing issues in the structure of the story too, especially in the first half of its second act, which consists of repetitive back-and-forth exchanges between Brice and Kincaid that most certainly needed to be trimmed down.
Speaking of action, the majority of the fight scenes here are like the writing — OK but not all that exceptional. Aside from Ryan Reynolds’ showdown with an assortment of henchman in a kitchen and then in a hardware store (that one is a good bit of fun), most of the action set-pieces are generic in both concept and staging. An extended boat chase scene, a nighttime car raid and a climactic race-against-the-clock just don’t generate nearly as much excitement as they should. At least director Patrick Hughes is able to film the various explosion-laden sequences in a way that makes it clear what’s going on all the time, which is indeed really nice, and at least none of them are all that bad even if too few of these segments of the film are all that remarkable. If we’re talking about the visuals in “The Hitman’s Bodyguard,” I would like to ask cinematographer Jules O’Laughlin why the vast majority of the movie is coated in overly bright angelic lighting that feels like a pale stylized imitation of the style of Janusz Kaminski’s cinematography.
At least Ryan Reynolds and Samuel L. Jackson keep “The Hitman’s Bodyguard” mostly light and diverting. These two do work quite wonderfully together, with Reynolds working surprisingly well in the mold of an uptight by-the-book archetype, his frazzled reactions to the chaos Jackson’s character brings remains a consistent hoot. As for Samuel L. Jackson himself, the guy’s got enough charisma to make even the corniest line seem cool, so he works just fine in this type of R-rated buddy action/comedy. The two’s chemistry is far better than the rest of the movie but at least the rest of “The Hitman’s Bodyguard” is just more bland and middle-of-the-road than outright bad.
Douglas Laman is a film critic, who, when not watching movies, attends Collin College and hangs out with friends. For more of his work and ramblings, visit his website at http://www.landofthenerds.blogspot.com.