Samuel L. Jackson and Ryan Reynolds join forces in this chalk-and-cheese action comedy. Cal thinks it is better than the Netflix tag may suggest.
The Hitman’s Bodyguard capably delivers on its promise to provide a slick action-comedy featuring two talented performers doing what they do best – nothing more, nothing less. It might not be especially great from a discerning critical standpoint, but the laughs hit hard for the most part and the action scenes are genuinely thrilling, which has to count for something. Produced for a rather modest $30 million, it’s competently constructed and moves at an agreeable pace, but don’t expect much in the way of creativity or originality. Nevertheless, for those of you who enjoy a good old-fashioned, old-school actioner, The Hitman’s Bodyguard should scratch that itch.
Michael Bryce (Ryan Reynolds) was the top bodyguard in his industry for a brief moment in time, but the assassination of a high-profile client instantly dethrones him, and, in the aftermath, he also loses his girlfriend, an Interpol agent named Amelia (Elodie Young). With his reputation in tatters, Michael is left accepting lousy jobs as he endeavours to build himself back up. Meanwhile, Amelia finds herself in a grim situation when she becomes stuck with notorious assassin Darius Kincaid (Samuel L. Jackson), who is due to testify at the International Criminal Court in The Hague against ruthless Russian leader Vladislav Dukhovich (Gary Oldman). With a string of enforcers and corrupt law enforcement officials seeking to kill Darius, Amelia tasks Michael with safely transporting the hitman across the Netherlands, and ensure that he gets to court on time. Despite deep-seated feelings of hostility towards each other based on previous encounters, Darius and Michael are forced to put aside their differences to complete the mission as a horde of hired guns aggressively come after them.
Written by Tom O’Connor, The Hitman’s Bodyguard is a standard-order mishmash of the likes of 48 Hrs. and Midnight Run, with a dash of Rush Hour for good measure. There is lots of fun to be had as Michael tries his hardest to be a proper bodyguard, adhering to his rulebook by the letter, while Darius uses his various tricks to escape custody and consequently put the mission in jeopardy. The movie certainly runs too long at nearly two hours, but at least the runtime means that no plot elements or character relationships feel short-changed. Nevertheless, more energy would have benefitted the flick, as it does feel its length from time to time. Admittedly, too, The Hitman’s Bodyguard doesn’t contain much in the way of innovation; it lacks a spin to distinguish it from similar endeavours. Considering the talents of Jackson and Reynolds, there was certainly room to satirise and subvert the mismatched buddy action-comedy subgenre (especially given the brilliant official poster which sends up 1992’s The Bodyguard), but The Hitman’s Bodyguard is content to be just another generic outing teeming with shootouts and chases. Whether or not that’s good enough is entirely up to you.
At the helm of The Hitman’s Bodyguard is Australian filmmaker Patrick Hughes, late of the outstanding Red Hill and 2014’s less impressive The Expendables 3. Say what you will about his limp Expendables instalment, but the director did at least show promise in the creation of the action sequences, and he does much better here. Action is frequent throughout, and Hughes acquits himself well, staging brutal, bloody mayhem with welcome verve, showing what he’s capable of with the freedom of an R rating. Although the set-pieces are frenetically shot and edited, this amplifies the sense of excitement, and it’s still easy to make out what’s happening. The standout has to be a chase through the streets and canals of Amsterdam involving cars, a boat, and a motorbike – the stunt-work is a treat, and the set-piece itself is worthy of a James Bond film. To be sure, there’s not much of a feeling that the (anti)heroes are in real danger, but it’s still fun to watch Michael and Darius dispatching masses of nameless goons as they battle their way through the Netherlands. On that note, it’s fortunate that The Hitman’s Bodyguard is not set in nondescript Eastern European locations like many of Millennium Films’ recent output (Boyka: Undisputed IV). There’s lots of eye-catching scenery and the flick is endowed with a unique flavour. If there are any shortcomings in the movie’s glossy technical presentation, it’s the occasional moments of shonky green-screening and CGI backgrounds, but that’s par for the course with this studio.
It’s apparent that a fair few of the laughs were likely improvised by the actors, but what matters is that The Hitman’s Bodyguard is frequently amusing, and left this reviewer in fits of laughter. Even though Reynolds is tasked to play the straightman to Jackson’s more frenzied Darius, the Deadpool actor does get the chance to flex his comedic muscles on several occasions, and he has this particular shtick down to a fine art. However, unsurprisingly, it’s Jackson who walks away with the movie. Given the freedom to swear up a storm as per his usual modus operandi, Jackson is firmly in his element here, clearly having a fun time playing this skilful, incredibly arrogant assassin. Hayek is also put to good use as Darius’s hot-headed bride, scoring plenty of laughs and stealing every scene in which she features (even in a sequence entirely bereft of dialogue that makes brilliant use of Lionel Ritchie’s “Hello”). Meanwhile, Oldman can do this type of villainy in his sleep (Air Force One), and the seasoned actor appears to be one of the only cast members to take the material seriously. He’s a fine foe as always, adding a touch of gravitas to the proceedings.
If The Hitman’s Bodyguard was produced sometime in the 1990s (starring Jackson and, say, Bruce Willis), it would probably be considered a minor cult action title and might have even been better-received by critics. In 2017, it’s not exactly relevant, but for the right audience it’s a pleasant alternative within a summer season full of expensive studio blockbusters. If The Hitman’s Bodyguard carried a safer PG-13 rating, it would likely have felt too painfully generic and vanilla, but with an R rating allowing for punchier one-liners, colourful bantering and blood sprays, the movie does its job better than perhaps it should. Be warned, though, that it is quite violent at times, and some critics have even complained that it’s too bloody for a comedy, so a strong stomach is recommended and it’s not for everyone. Nevertheless, I cannot deny that the movie worked for me. It’s a fun time. Note that there is an outtake at the end of the credits – and it’s funny, so stick around for it.
- A video of its filming in Amsterdam turned up on social media networks showing a car chase. A Porsche Cayenne is shown crashing into a Smart and pushing it in the water. The video went viral and the story changed to it being a stolen car in a real chase.
- One of the movie posters shows Ryan Reynolds carrying Samuel L. Jackson in a spoof of the poster for The Bodyguard (1992) where Kevin Costner is carrying Whitney Houston. Even the tag-lines are the same (albeit with pronoun changes).
- Reunites Salma Hayek and Joaquim de Almeida, who previously starred together in Desperado (1995).
- Jackson performed the song “Nobody Gets Out Alive” at the end of the film.