Are you a fan of Ryan Reynolds’ deadpan, quip-a-minute style? Can you never get enough of Samuel L. Jackson’s poetic delivery of profane one-liners? Then you, dear reader, are in luck. The Hitman’s Bodyguard is an old-fashioned action movie, owing a considerable debt to the genre’s 1980s heyday, disguised only slightly by its European setting. It’s exactly what it says on the label, which usually works in its favor, except when it doesn’t.
Ryan Reynolds is Michael Bryce, a former elite bodyguard (ahem “executive protection agent”) down on his luck after losing a high-profile client to an assassin. Samuel L. Jackson is Darius Kincaid, a world class assassin doing time for any number of crimes, who is offered a deal to testify against a deposed Eastern European dictator (Gary Oldman) during his trial for war crimes at The Hague (this movie does nothing by half measures). When Interpol drops the ball on getting Darius to court, the job lands in the lap of Bryce, setting the pair off on a series of odd couple action/comedy mishaps. Of course they can’t stand each other.
Reynolds and Jackson certainly aren’t stretching themselves here, but they sure are having fun, and that forgives a number of sins. When Ryan Reynolds is, essentially, the straight man in the action/comedy equation, that should give you an idea of how far into the stratosphere his partner is taking things. But you can’t fault Samuel L. Jackson for clearly having the time of his life, especially not when he and Reynolds make for such an effective bickering pair of action heroes. I can no longer tell when Gary Oldman is mailing in a performance in movies like this, and his one-note dictator/background villain doesn’t get enough screen time to matter. Elodie Yung holds her own as Bryce’s ex-girlfriend, a capable Interpol operative who he nonetheless holds a grudge against. The only supporting player who isn’t completely eclipsed by the Jackson/Reynolds antics is Salma Hayek as Sonia Kincaid, Darius’ hilariously foul-mouthed, abrasive, and tough wife (and the only reason Darius agrees to testify in the first place).
In an age of superheroes, giant robots, collapsing buildings, and ever more ridiculous explosions, the relative simplicity of this movie’s approach almost seems quaint, but instead it’s refreshing. The action, which is capably handled by director Patrick Hughes (best known for the regrettable The Expendables 3), rarely slows down in any case, builds to an intentionally ridiculous crescendo as it barrels into the home stretch. There are two inventively staged sequences, one an outdoor fiasco glimpsed in the trailers and the other a brutal, claustrophobic fight in a hardware store. Both are great fun, and aided even more by Reynolds’ considerable comic timing.
While the parallels to any number of 1980s action movies are unavoidable (and certainly intentional) the one thing I kept coming back to during my viewing was something else entirely: Looney Tunes. The violence, especially in the final act, takes on a gleeful, Chuck Jones quality, and it fully embraces the absurdity of every situation and reaches a point where each action scene is more madcap than the last. Think of Reynolds and Jackson as the action movie equivalent of Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner, respectively. Just substitute “motherfucker” for “meep-meep” and you’re halfway there.
Somehow, The Hitman’s Bodyguard manages to turn most of its weaknesses into strengths. Not even a twist that wouldn’t surprise the blind or the most ridiculous and literal ticking clock climax in recent cinematic memory can ruin the fun. When Darius takes a bullet in the knee within minutes of his introduction and then careens around the rest of the movie like it’s as mild an inconvenience as an ingrown toenail, well, that can’t be chalked up to anything other than an acute awareness of exactly the kind of ridiculousness that the script (by Tom O’Connor) set out to achieve. To be safe, and for further 1980s authenticity, they should have trimmed about 10 minutes out and brought it in at a far more lean and mean 90-100 minutes.
The Hitman’s Bodyguard is at times a strange affair. As a viewer, you’ll be acutely aware of how brainless the proceedings are, but it’s such a bonkers ride that you won’t mind.
The Hitman’s Bodyguard opens on August 18.
Read and download the full Den of Geek Special Edition magazine here!