The Hitman’s Bodyguard is the story of a pair of polar opposites who are forced to work together when extenuating circumstances cause the conviction of a genocidal dictator to depend on a certain man’s testimony. One man is an uptight, anal retentive bodyguard, and the other man is a loose cannon of a hitman. Ryan Reynolds plays the straight-man bodyguard who finds himself in a perpetual state of rage, as he attempt to regain his former prestigious career after losing his first client. Pushing against him the whole way is Samuel L. Jackson‘s performance of a devil-may-cry hitman, who has the usual code of honor among thieves that keeps the viewers able to root for such a man. Jackson’s character sings and dances his way through Europe, leaving a trail of fire, bodies, and even copious amounts of his own blood behind. His most important question to his reluctant partner is, “who is the most evil, the man who kills bad people, or the man who protects them?”
Like a buddy-cop movie seen from the other side, these buddy criminals break many laws and many bones without hesitation. It’s always a pleasure to see an action-comedy done without compromising one or the other, and in that sense, the film triumphs. It strikes a glorious tone between silly and brutal, where physical comedy and witty banter hold hands and then break each other’s fingers. The chemistry between Reynolds and Jackson undeniably works. Whether it’s because of two seasoned actors honing their craft, or because the characters come off the page like self-aware caricatures of the actors’ public personas, they play off of each other like a comedy duo that has done this before.
The only sad thing that can be said of the film is that the shortcomings don’t feel unavoidable or difficult to fix. My bias (and totally made-up sixth sense) detects the fingerprints of some overly hands-on producers or rewriters dulling a sharp script. Perhaps the drafts got away from them, but the writing was chock-full of interesting ideas that never grew. Instead, we get a string of generic plot points that make your eyes glaze over with tedium. However, we are also tied together with fun moments that make you wake up and wonder what the film is aiming to be. We get ideas that present comedic and narrative significance, but are only sprinkled into the script, and then abandoned. We also get character arcs that promise to be meaningful, only to be let down again when it matters most. It is like a first date that starts off with an intense kiss, only to end with a polite hug.
An action-comedy that doesn’t pull punches is a rare thing nowadays. When Sam Jackson gets to rattle off 122 expletives over the course of the film, when Salma Hayek breaks a bone through the arm that gropes her, when Ryan Reynolds vents his troubles to a terrified bartender (while an orchestra of explosions decorates the Amsterdam streets behind him), you don’t ask what you can water down to sell more tickets. You film that stuff and put it on the biggest screen you can find. A cut above average but still off the mark of greatness, The Hitman’s Bodyguard is an enjoyable watch, but one that might leave some viewers with the feeling that their appetites were simply whetted instead of satisfied.
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