Hitman’s Bodyguard More Meh than Mayhem

Movie Review: The Hitman’s Bodyguard

Ryan Reynolds and Samuel L. Jackson exchange character clichés in a lazy thriller that misses the mark, aiming for moral high ground under a stack of corpses

The Hitman’s Bodyguard

2/5

Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Samuel L. Jackson, Gary Oldman, Elodie Yung, Richard E. Grant, Salma Hayek

Directed by: Patrick Hughes

Running time: 1 hr 58 mins

Rating: Restricted

By Katherine Monk

“Do you really think you’re the good guy?” asks Samuel L. Jackson’s hitman of Ryan Reynolds’s bodyguard in Patrick Hughes’s latest artefact pulled from the stale, musky locker of male identity.

The question itself suggests there’s some moral argument beneath the stack of corpses strewn about the screen like so many rose petals at a gay wedding. Posed in the penultimate act, the question seems designed to make us think about our assumptions about gunslinging heroes and anti-heroes.

Samuel L. Jackson’s character, Darius Kincaid, is a paid assassin. He’s killed people for a living since he was a teenager. Ryan Reynolds’s character, Michael Bryce, is a top-shelf bodyguard, serving rich corporate clients with enough cash and clout to ensure his personal security business is not only thriving, but carries a ‘triple-A’ rating.

Bryce maintains he’s the good guy because he protects people from harm, but Kincaid counters: How good could you possibly be ‘good’ when you’re merely protecting the bad guys who pillage the world’s riches for their own gain?

Kincaid thinks if there’s any moral high ground, it’s his: He stops evil men with a bullet straight through the cranium.

From a philosophical perspective, it’s a rather uninspired argument since both men are servants of violence. Spiritual ambitions only reach as far as the silenced muzzle of a gun. The very idea of goodness is reduced to the identity of each target: If the bad guy is in the crosshairs, the act of pulling the trigger is noble. If the good guy is in the crosshairs, the act of pulling the trigger is evil.

Yet nowhere in this wholesale slaughter is anyone questioning the act of pulling the trigger itself,  which may be why this entire exercise feels exhausted from the moment it begins with a great big splatter of blood.

Bryce was hired to protect a rich Japanese businessman, and in the opening sequence, we watch him orchestrate a team of black-suited professionals wearing earpieces. They parade around him like an armed marching band in perfect formation, with Bryce acting as drum major. He is all business. And all smiles. And when he delivers his employer to his private jet without incident, he wears his self-satisfaction with a hint of arrogance.

Then, bang! A bullet pierces the little round window and with it, Bryce’s ‘triple-A’ rating. Meanwhile, Vladislav Dukhovich (Gary Oldman), a morally bankrupt goon with political power is on trial in The Hague. His crimes are well-documented, but without a witness to seal the deal, Dukhovich could walk away a free man and begin his reign of terror anew.

No one wants to take the stand because every previously scheduled witness has met an untimely end. They need someone to testify, and the only person left is Kincaid — a former contract killer for Dukhovich who now sits in prison.

The feds offer Kincaid a deal: Testify against Dukhovich and his wife (Salma Hayek) — also serving time in jail — will be released. Kincaid agrees, but they have to get him to Belgium safely, and the only person willing to stand between Dukhovich and Kincaid is Bryce, a man desperate to redeem himself and regain his ‘triple-A’ rating.

The plot — predictable as it may be — is not the reason why this movie bleeds out in bland fashion. The big problem is director Patrick Hughes’s (The Expendables 3) tone. He’s trying to be funny. He’s also trying to deliver a violent thriller with a body count higher than a round of Halo.

It’s not an easy line to tread, and as much as he tries to revisit the unholy territory claimed by Quentin Tarantino by casting Samuel L. Jackson as the smart-ass hitman, he fails utterly in his quest to truly entertain.

Not even Reynolds’s natural charm seems to work in this poorly constructed frame. It feels like something self-consciously stuck between smug and stupid — like watching Johnny Depp on a talk show.

The same could be said for the whole movie as it struggles to fuse cool with empty cliche. Nothing here feels sincere, neither the words, nor the performances. Not even the grotesque gunplay seems to carry any dramatic weight.

In short, the Hitman’s Bodyguard fires a lot of bullets but fails to hit a single mark.

@katherinemonk

THE EX-PRESS, August 18, 2017
Katherine Monk’s movie reviews on Rotten Tomatoes

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Review: The Hitman's Bodyguard

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Summary

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Ryan Reynolds and Samuel L. Jackson exchange character clichés in a lazy thriller that misses the mark, aiming for moral high ground under a stack of corpses. Director Patrick Hughes fails to find the right tone, finding neither comedy nor drama in his bid to fuse both. At least Gary Oldman is dependable as the morally bankrupt bad guy, ensuring The Hitman's Bodyguard leaves a clean exit wound that we can soon forget. - Katherine Monk

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