If you’re feeling nostalgic for a 1990s-style buddy action comedy with some early 2000s edge, “The Hitman’s Bodyguard” is the film for you.
Directed by Patrick Hughes, the script could have been written in 2005 and never updated, as a ripoff Tarantino that thinks swearing stands in for wit, with the kind of casual sexism and objectification of women that movies got away with before we all got sick of it.
But this is a film that lives and dies by its stars, and Samuel L. Jackson, as the hitman, and Ryan Reynolds, as the bodyguard, make for a fine pair of unlikely partners and hit a few well-placed punchlines with expert delivery. Jackson in particular is a treat to watch, whether singing Italian folk songs with nuns or doling out love advice via speakerphone during a car chase.
The plot concerns testimony that the hitman, Darius Kincaid (Jackson), is supposed to give against a bloodthirsty Belarussian dictator, Vladislav Dukhovich (Gary Oldman). In exchange for the release of his feisty wife, Sonia (Salma Hayek), from a Dutch prison, Kincaid promises to offer proof of Dukhovich’s war crimes.
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When the Interpol transfer of Kincaid goes south, agent Amelia Roussel (Elodie Yung) calls up an old boyfriend for backup, an “executive security agent” who’s fallen on hard times, Michael Bryce (Reynolds). Bryce and Kincaid have a long and thorny history as adversaries, so their 24-hour jaunt from England to Amsterdam proves to be eventful. Thanks to Dukhovich’s thugs, who are trying to prevent Kincaid from testifying, it’s also violently action-packed.
It’s unfortunate that “The Hitman’s Bodyguard” hits U.S. theaters this weekend. It’s unlikely audiences will be entertained by scenes of evil henchmen plowing vehicles through quaint city squares, mowing down bystanders.
The film demonstrates a hypocritical attitude about murder — while Kincaid and Bryce race across town to indict a dictator for murdering civilians, they leave a wake of bloody bodies in the streets. They’re bad guys, but the tricky morality doesn’t gel.
Moreover, the violence of “The Hitman’s Bodyguard” is exhaustingly dull. It’s not shot in an interesting way, the cinematic geography is mush, and the stunts and action choreography are nothing to write home about. As the film pushes the two-hour mark, it becomes a boring blur.
The problem with “The Hitman’s Bodyguard,” aside from the dodgy filmmaking, is that this story is the least interesting tale to tell about these characters. The flashbacks, to Kincaid’s first kill and his meet-cute with Sonia, are juicy snippets of stories that would have made for a better movie. This film should have traded the hitman’s bodyguard for his wife; she’s the most compelling character in it.
‘The Hitman’s Bodyguard’
Rated R for strong violence and language throughout. 1:58. Fayette, Frankfort, Georgetown, Hamburg, Nicholasville, Richmond, Winchester.