Editor’s Note: The Hitman’s Bodyguard opens in wide theatrical release today, August 18, 2017.
If you need evidence that the dog days of summer have arrived once again, look no further than the Patrick Hughes-directed The Hitman’s Bodyguard, a throwaway, talent-wasting, straight-to-VOD-level action-comedy that only received a theatrical release due to the box-office potential of its co-leads, Ryan Reynolds and Samuel L. Jackson. Reynolds plays Michael Bryce, the “Triple-A Executive Protection Agent” (i.e., a bodyguard), to Jackson’s Darius Kincaid, a globetrotting contract killer (i.e., hitman) with a moral code (he only kills evil men), a borderline offensive, stereotypically hot-tempered, foul-mouthed Latina wife, Sonia (Salma Hayek), stuck in an Amsterdam prison as leverage against Kincaid, and the vital information that can put a brutal, child-killing, Belorussian dictator, Vladislav Dukhovich (Gary “Paycheck” Oldman), away permanently for a multitude of crimes against humanity, but only if Bryce and Kincaid put aside their differences, professional rivalry/jealousy, and get to the Hague by a predetermined, no less arbitrary, deadline.
When we first meet Reynolds’ character, though, he’s on top of the bodyguard world (or whatever being on top of the bodyguard business entails). He has a beautiful life and an almost wife in Amelia Roussel (Elodie Yung), an Interpol agent, but when disaster strikes in the form of an unexpected sniper’s bullet that takes out his latest client, a Japanese arms dealer, moments before the latter’s private jet takes off from the tarmac, Bryce’s life unravels almost immediately. He loses all of his money, whatever status he once had, and Amelia (mostly because he blames her for compromising his gig), ultimately leaving him to live out of his car and take on low-level private clients to make ends meet. But opportunity calls (via unsecured phone call no less) when Amelia finds herself in a desperate position: Along with Kincaid, the survivor of a brazen, daylight ambush that leaves a 12-man protection squad dead and a wounded Kincaid and Amelia on the run in Manchester with friends nowhere and enemies everywhere.
Calling Bryce temporarily reunites Amelia with her ex, but more importantly, it puts Reynolds and Jackson together for the remainder of The Hitman’s Bodyguard. The obligatory antagonism, punctuated with high-school level insults, gradually gives way to grudging respect, maybe even admiration, by the time Bryce and Kincaid reach their final destination to put Dukhovich away for good. Apparently, the crimes against humanity/genocide case against Dukhovich will fail utterly – more a plot gimmick than anything that would happen in the real world where the International Criminal Court and its dedicated army of human-rights lawyers are concerned – without Kincaid’s testimony. Why the testimony of a contract killer would prove decisive in an international criminal case isn’t a question The Hitman’s Bodyguard bothers to ask (if it did, we wouldn’t like the answer), but it’s all the superficial motivation Bryce and Kincaid apparently need for a city-, country-, and continent-hopping excursion overflowing with bullet-ridden bodies, car chases/crashes, and more of the same for the better part of two hours.
Hughes doesn’t exactly impress as a filmmaker. His style is no style at all. His emphasis on rapid-fire cuts and a constantly gyrating camera are exactly what we’d expect from a journeyman action director. The Hitman’s Bodyguard has exactly one consistent tone throughout its overlong, self-indulgent, bloated running time: crass, rude, and vulgar, mixing low-grade, expletive-filled humor (Jackson loves nothing more than to use “mother—er” as a noun, verb, adjective, and adverb wherever and whenever possible, a familiar verbal tic that becomes increasingly tiresome), and a casual, jokey approach to otherwise brutal, callous ultra-violence, the kind of ultra-violence that plays up and plays to a juvenile, adolescent iteration of masculinity and its discontents.
Of course, Reynolds and Jackson aren’t exactly playing against type in The Hitman’s Bodyguard. In fact, they’re playing completely to type. Reynolds’ Bryce may have skydived from grace moments after we meet him, but even unshaven, unwashed, and disheveled, he’s still a cocky, smug smartass, using his quick wit – or what passes for quick wit in The Hitman’s Bodyguard. Jackson has been playing versions of the F-bomb throwing, contract killer since he justifiably rocketed to stardom as Jules Winnfield in Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction more than two decades ago. But this isn’t Pulp Fiction and Jackson’s not playing Winnfield. He’s playing an underdeveloped, underwritten iteration of the character and moviegoers are all the poorer for witnessing yet another phoned-in performance by Jackson. The same goes for Reynolds, though now that he has a successful superhero franchise, Deadpool, to call his own, he can fill up his resume with mediocre, sub-par efforts like The Hitman’s Bodyguard and remain gainfully employed.
The Hitman’s Bodyguard has exactly one consistent tone throughout its overlong, self-indulgent, bloated running time: crass.