By Liam Lacey
Glibly violent and sporadically funny, The Hitman's Bodyguard has Samuel L. Jackson and Ryan Reynolds in a bloody-buddy action comedy, which counts on the stars' charisma to distract from the flaws in vehicle that carries them.
Jackson stars as a free-wheeling, cocky contract killer on his way to the Hague to testify at the International Criminal Court against a war criminal. Reynolds is his anxious,by-the-book security escort. Don't stop me if you've heard this one.
The introductory scene introduces Reynolds as security expert, Michael Bryce, as he sees his latest client, a Japanese arms dealer, off at the airport. Bryce is careful and proud of his perfect record of “no assets killed” and his "three star" rating. Just as he has said goodbye to his client and put him on a plane home, a long-distance sniper's bullet paints a blood splatter on the airplane window. Goodbye perfect record.
Two years later, we meet Bryce again, disheveled, unshaven and apparently living in his foul-smelling car. He is reduced to getting a coke-addled lawyer (Richard E. Grant) out of a London penthouse through a gantlet of ferocious looking but easily dispatched would-be killers.
Personal and professional salvation arrives when he gets a call from former flame, Amelia (Yung), in Manchester, who has just watched more than a dozen of her 20-member Interpol team slaughtered by Eastern European criminals (aided by a tip from her crooked boss). Now Amelia needs Bryce, an outsider, to escort key witness Darius Kincaid (Jackson) to the Hague to testify before the International Criminal Court against a straggly-haired, pompous Belarussian war criminal, Vladislav Dukhovich (Gary Oldman).
Of course, Kincaid, an international assassin with a couple of hundred kills to his credit, doesn't think he needs a hovering nanny. The usual Felix-Oscar squabbles ensue, with occasional interruptions for a car chase or shoot-out.
All of this is fairly by-the-book, a violent Euro-thriller with an international cast and production team, which can be easily dubbed and soon forgotten in many languages around the world.
In fairness, Jackson and Reynolds are enjoyable when there's a lull in the action, and two actors are alone and bantering, in hideouts and in cars, singing songs hitching a ride with a bus full of Italian nuns. They talk of romance, with Reynolds acting puppy-eyed but snide about his ex, who he thinks betrayed him. Jackson, meanwhile, is life-affirming even when he's talking about Sonia as a killer: "When she severed that dude’s carotid artery with a beer bottle," he recalls of his wife, Sonia, "I knew right then..."
Too often though, they fall into that familiar kind of self-aware banter that mocks genre cliches while reveling in them. The upright and uptight Bryce assumes he has the moral upper-hand, until Kincaid challenges him. Who is really more morally culpable, "he who kills evil motherfuckers, or he who protects them?” (Or, possibly, those evil mofos who apply overdone Quentin Tarantino schtick onto middling summer action movies?)
As for the chase-and-shoot sequences, take place in Amsterdam on speedboats on canals and streets, provide little more than rushed tourist scenery, with no great effort to disguise stunt doubles and CGI explosions.
Reynolds and Jackson work hard to find a through-line as the movie shifts jarringly in tone and skips over plot holes. But it's a lost cause. Screenwriter Tom O'Connor and director Patrick Hughes (Expendables 3) jump willy-nilly and artlessly from scenes of cruelty and carnage, to smart-ass banter and slapstick violence set to retro pop songs.
Many elements of the screenplay are inexcusably lazy. There's an arbitrary and absurd deadline: If Kincaid can't make it to the International Criminal Court before 5 p.m., Dukhovich will be set free - which seems like an unconscionably short statute of limitations for war crimes. Also, if Kincaid doesn't make it, his wife (Hayek, in screw-the-stereotype fire-breathing Mexican spitfire mode), won't get out of jail.
Then there's the ending, or, I should say, one of the several endings, that undermine the whole escapade. I don't want to say too much, but when Kincaid's damning evidence finally is revealed, all that I could think was, ‘Surely just emailing a web link would have saved a lot of gas and ammo.’
The Hitman's Bodyguard. Directed by Patrick Hughes. Written by Tom O'Connor. Starring Samuel L. Jackson, Ryan Reynolds and Salma Hayek. Opens in wide release Friday, August 18.
Liam Lacey is a former film critic for The Globe and Mail, as well as contributor to various other media outlets over the past 37 years.. He recently returned to Canada from Spain because he forgot about the weather