This one had me at the poster. The image of Ryan Reynolds and Samuel L Jackson recreating the Kevin Costner-Whitney Houston one-sheet for The Bodyguard made me chuckle more than a few comedies had managed in their full running time. Backed by the promise of a film that paid homage to the kind of 80s and 90s buddy action movies we don’t get anymore (well, The Nice Guys excluded), The Hitman’s Bodyguard is the kind of film I’m glad still interests Hollywood.
If only it had been funny.
The setup sees Ryan Reynolds as protection agent Michael Bryce, who – reluctantly, natch – lands the job of escorting Samuel L Jackson’s Darius Kincaid to testify in a high profile trial at The Hague. It’s a journey that goes via Coventry and Manchester (and lord knows we don’t get many visits to the Midlands in Hollywood movies), and inevitably sets the film against a ticking clock. Running at close to two hours, a sped-up one certainly would have helped.
Let’s do the good bits first, though. Samuel L Jackson is never less than good fun, and his moments with Salma Hayek are highlights. There’s a welcome burst of Lionel Ritchie’s Hello too, played to comedy effect. Furthermore, The Expendables 3 director Patrick Hughes loves a good, old-fashioned brutal firefight, and whatever company supplies such films with muzzle flashes would have enclosed a hefty invoice for their efforts here. There’s not much variance to the action sequences on the flip side of that, and some of them don’t half drag on. But if you’re frustrated by over-stylised gunfights in movies, just know that Hughes has your back.
Unfortunately, not much else gels. Of particular disappointment is the spark-free relationship between Reynolds and Jackson. Neither’s on bad form, but conversely, they don’t get anywhere near the mismatched gold of Eddie Murphy and Nick Nolte, or Mel Gibson and Danny Glover. They just bicker and get on your nerves a bit, without the sparks needed to lift the material.
Furthermore, they’re heavily underserved by a screenplay whose jokes just don’t hit. There’s clearly pedigree to Tom O’Connor’s script (not that Tom O’Connor), given that it popped up on the Black List of best unproduced screenplays back at the start of the decade. But its half decade or so winding through the system has robbed it of whatever got people interested in the first place. Lines feel diluted, zingers are lacking, and it just starts to drag. A lot.
For an action comedy to really work, both elements need to click. Here, the comedy doesn’t land, and the action feels steadfast and decent, but never that interesting. With too many things dragging against it, it eventually submerges the movie, and leaves The Hitman’s Bodyguard as a late summer disappointment. Just one with a great poster.