Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, OFCS and AWFJ member, as well as a Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic. Her work has been published on Variety, She Knows and Awards Circuit.
Courtney Howard // Film Critic
Let’s be honest.
The real reason that you’re interested in THE HITMAN’S BODYGUARD is to see Samuel L. Jackson continue to elevate the word “motherfucker” into an art form. Maybe it’s to see my 2nd husband Ryan Reynolds exercise his excessive, endearing charm with funny fast-talk. In that sense you’ll walk away fully satisfied with director Patrick Hughes’ action-comedy popcorn picture. On paper, this crisp, slick, high concept from screenwriter Tom O’Connor is a stealthy stunner. In execution, however, there’s some noticeable bruising. It takes as much glee in lobbing a hearty foul-mouthed retort as it does setting off blood-splattering squibs (or at least CG-enhanced ones) like they’re confetti-poppers on New Year’s Eve. Bloody, brutal and bombastic, this MIDNIGHT RUN-inspired film is assuredly this Summer’s antidote to boring.
Michael Bryce (Reynolds) was the world’s top executive protection agent until one of his clients was mowed down before completing his contractual agreement. Now, two years later, he’s minus the modern home, the sleek designer suits, the Patek Phillipe watch, the Jag and, awww, love. But things change when he’s called upon by his ex-flame, Interpol Agent Amelia Roussel (Elodie Yung), to transport a key witness to the Hague. The problem is that witness happens to be Michael’s nemesis, the world’s most notorious hitman, Darius Kincaid (Jackson). Darius has sensitive testimony that will put merciless Belarusian dictator Vladislav Dukhovich (Gary Oldman) away for life. That said, the road from London to Amsterdam will not be paved smoothly as Dukhovich has mercenaries hot on the dynamic duo’s tail.
O’Connor’s script admirably delivers on its absolutely terrific, insanely catchy premise. The odd-couple character dynamics work well to a certain extent, despite getting far too esoteric with their philosophies on killing. Even though it could stand one more comedy punch-up pass, the script gifts us with some funny moments – like Darius’ knock on wood line about the bad guys car being usable, or the scene in the Nun-mobile. Given that this follows the traditional outlines of romantic comedies, buddy-comedies and action-comedies, the ways in which the genre-smashing occurs results in a fair amount of giddy delight from an enlightened audience. Tropes have been given a facelift. The romcommy “you lied to me” moment morphs into something much more delightful than expected, though, yes, we do expect it. Plus the moment when their bromantic comedy hits the skids is handled with cleverness.
While some of the shenanigans could’ve benefitted from a snappier edit to milk the inherent outlandishness and wittier dialogue to make it tad brighter, what we’re given is a smashing set-up to see two highly charismatic actors do what they do best: entertain. Jackson’s ability to riff endlessly on his cinematic no-nonsense, potty-mouthed persona leaves you feeling satiated. It’s great fun to see Reynolds ratchet up Michael’s exasperation and scruffy exhaustion. His frustration is a treasure trove for hilarity and a vulnerable weak spot for Darius to exploit.
That said, the way women are portrayed doesn’t sit all that well. It’s nice that the filmmakers revere us within the context of romantic relationships, but our fair sex comes across as shrews, thanks to our introductions of both Amelia (with Michael’s phone displaying “Pure Evil” when she calls – and a frigid temperament to match), and Darius’ sassy spitfire wife Sonia (Salma Hayek), on an angry tirade at him from her prison cell. It’s heartening the filmmakers work towards dismantling bravado, showing Bryce working to rid himself of male toxicity, but the initial jump-off point is weak.
Aesthetically, with the exception of Darius’ origin story flashback (one of the few segments with well-earned cinematic flourish) and Sonia’s violent bar fight (juxtaposed with Lionel Richie’s “Hello”), I wish Hughes had stretched his muscles a bit more to make the action sequences feel immersive. The stuntwork is impressive, but, like most modern action films (not pioneered by 87Eleven), it gets covered up with artifice (like shaky-cam and faux long one-takes). Atli Örvarsson’s score, clearly meant to allude to Darius as a neo-Western-inspired anti-hero, can be overly-aggressive in spots with its heavy metal guitars and chorus of male “hoos” and “has.”
For whatever blights HITMAN may have, sometimes all you need is genuine entertainment – and the filmmakers have undoubtedly upheld on their end of the bargain.
THE HITMAN’S BODYGUARD opens on August 18.