The Hitman's Bodyguard

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Friday August 18, 2017

Samuel L. Jackson and Ryan Reynolds star in 'The Hitman's Bodyguard'
Samuel L. Jackson and Ryan Reynolds star in 'The Hitman's Bodyguard'  

Ryan Reynolds' charm and Samuel L. Jackson's cool collide on the silver screen, but never mesh as well as you might like in the high-octane action thriller / buddy movie "The Hitman's Bodyguard."

Reynolds plays Michael Bryce, the bodyguard. Bryce once had a thriving Triple-A rated security firm that specialized in protecting high-value people whose lives were constantly in danger -- the downside being that some of those people were notorious, if not downright monstrous. When a client is killed right before his eyes despite his best precautions, Bryce's life, career, and reputation all take a plunge, and he's left babysitting the likes of a coked-out lawyer (Richard E. Grant in a brief, but memorable, role).

Jackson plays Darius Kincaid, an "unkillable" assassin with the goods on a former dictator named Vladislav Dukhovich (Gary Oldman). In exchange for his wife Sonia's (Salma Hayek) freedom, Kincaid agrees to testify against Dukhovich at the international court in the Hague. There are a couple of catches, though: First, Kincaid has to arrive at the court by 5 p.m. the following day, or else the deal is off because the case will automatically be dismissed. And the other problem? Legions of Belarusian mercenaries are out to snuff Kincaid before he can take the stand.

One attempt on Kincaid's life takes place while Interpol is transporting him, under the watchful eye of Amelia Roussel (Elodie Yung). Mayhem and carnage result, and in the aftermath Rouseel spirits Kincaid to a safe house. Then, knowing Interpol has been compromised, she phones up her ex for help -- that ex being none other than the embittered Bryce. Once the pairing of hitman and bodyguard is made, the reaction is practically chemical: Upon seeing each other a the safe house, the two fight like tigers. Larger concerns -- namely, the aforementioned legion of mercy -- convince the two to put their differences aside, and here's where the road movie/buddy comedy element kicks in. For Bryce, the task of delivering Kincaid alive is a matter of professionalism, while to Kincaid this -- like everything else -- is a chance to hang out, have some fun, maybe kill a few bad guys. That's right: Kincaid views himself as a hero who rids the world of evil scum.

That difference of approach and opinion lends the movie a few fleeting moments of philosophical reflection (I'm sure there's a French film just waiting to be made on this topic, if it hasn't already been done) but the otherwise-thin premise isn't developed so much as padded out with subsidiary characters and overdone, adrenalized set pieces. There are shootouts galore; there's plenty of hand-to-hand combat; there are many gags and visual jokes strewn throughout the movie to keep you laughing even as the film's headlong pace ensures you're seldom bored.

But there are few moments of lag, and they mostly take place when Reynolds and Jackson are left to bicker with each other between bouts of kicking paid killer ass. The lack of chemistry extends to Reynolds and Yung, who continue their post-breakup fighting via cell phone -- while Bryce is speeding around in a stolen car, exchanging gunfire with armed motorcycle goons, say, or while Roussel is standing around in the courtroom anxiously waiting for the two to arrive even as she sizes up her superiors to work out who the mole might be. (It's only a mystery to her; the film gives up that particular reveal early on.) When bullets aren't flying or limbs being snapped -- when it's just the two of them, in other words, as in a flashback to when they first met -- there's no energy at all in their shared scenes.

More successful is the wild, even psychotic, spark between Jackson and Hayek, partly because Hayek's performance is utterly off the hook. She steals the movie, and doesn't have to stir from her prison cell to do it. Yes, her character is a trope, and comes straight from basic screenwriting technique (the protagonists usually have to have wives or other family members to protect and/or save, after all), but she brings so much brio to the role that even Tom O'Connor's script -- which is often metronomic and dutiful, but rarely inspired -- feels sharper. Compare the brutal, nastily funny flashback that details Kincaid's first meeting with Sonia to the flat mess that is Bryce and Roussel's origin story, and there you have it in a nutshell. Reynolds' dry wit is in full force here, but he's just not been put together with the right co-stars. Jackson, on the other hand, could have carried the movie on his own. Maybe he should have; the "buddy" element feels forced, and it drags the comedy down.

The film isn't helped by some terrible effects work -- a flaming tire, falling from the sky after a car explodes, is meant as a visual punchline, but it's so obviously been inserted into the frame (either via CG or compositing) that you forget to laugh. Later on, as an absolutely bonkers shoot rages behind him, a drunken Bryce carries on complaining to his cowering, freaked-out bartender -- a nice contrast that should generate more humor but cannot, being hampered by a too-obvious use of green screen. It makes sense to have shot the scene this way (Reynolds could then do multiple takes without requiring the complex background action to be restaged every time) but that's not a consideration the audience should be mulling over while an action sequence unfolds; they should be caught up in the action. A film shouldn't be so poorly done as to rub its seams in your face.

There are a lot of blazing thrills in this film, from Hayek's scorching turn to ceaseless weapons fire, to a late-breaking detonation or two (not to mention an unexpected moment featuring a human torch), but despite its fever-pitch sound and fury this action flick is a misfire.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.