On a basic level, there are a lot of things that The Hitman’s Bodyguard does right. For one thing, there are more squibs employed in this flick than in the past decade of action movies. There are real explosions blowing up real cars (for the most part.) There’s even a stuntman fully engulfed in flames, which remains my favorite thing to look at. It’s quite vulgar, proudly wearing an R-rating on its sleeve. And the casting. Oh boy what a marvelous choice of casting. Ryan Reynolds and Sam Jackson trading quips and punches seems like a formula that simply can’t fail.
Yet it does … because the script is absolute garbage.
Not that this is a surprise. According to pre-release press, it wasn’t until just before production that The Hitman’s Bodyguard was turned into a comedy. A virtual overnight rewrite made it into what it is today, and in that regard the tonal shift is pretty seamless. It does feel like a comedy, even if it isn’t that funny. Despite having a distinct lack of soul, this movie is no different functionally than the litany of superior buddy-action flicks which predate it. Heck, almost all of the Die Hard sequels began as scripts for something else (and the fourth entry is based on a Wired article, of all things), so this sort of retooling is far from outside of the norm. Unfortunately, this time around too much of the proceedings coast on an assumed charisma from the two stars that simply isn’t there.
Riggs and Murtaugh are fully fleshed out characters who play off one another in a way that is true to Lethal Weapon‘s internal logic. Same goes for John McClane and Zeus Carver of Die Hard With a Vengeance fame. But in The Hitman’s Bodyguard, Kincaid and whatever-the-hell-Ryan-Reynolds’-character-is-named are not characters at all. They’re just Sam Jackson and Ryan Reynolds.
What this means is that Jackson yells “motherfucker” a lot while Reynolds responds by making snarky comments seemingly for his own entertainment. Your mileage may vary on this, but for me once the initial joke was made, it didn’t have the legs to run for two whole hours. It could have, had I any reason to latch on to either character outside of “I usually enjoy this actor.” It’s not just in character that the script is lacking either. At the risk of using a tired cliche I will say this: the writers had only one job: put oil & water in a situation where they must work together. Sure, it could be argued that this is precisely what happens, but the degree to which it didn’t work is confounding.
Here’s the basic plot rundown.
Ryan Reynolds was the best bodyguard in the biz. Until one day when a very powerful client is offed by a sniper while under his watch. This sends Reynolds (no I am not looking up his character’s name) on a downward spiral, and now he’s washed up and escorting lower-level clients for considerably less money. Kincaid (Sam Jackson, himself) was the best assassin in the business. He’s been locked up for a few years now, but has agreed to testify against an evil warlord (Gary Oldman, who definitely has bills to pay or something) in exchange for his incarcerated spouse’s freedom.
Naturally, transporting Sam Jackson to the courthouse is a dangerous task, and after some overly convoluted setup (Ryan Reynolds is called in by his Interpol-agent ex-girlfriend who he blames for his downfall to protect Sam Jackson after she discovers there may be a mole in the agency who works for Gary Oldman), our duo is on their way to the courthouse with henchmen hot on their tail. They bicker with one another, discuss their ideological clashes, and ultimately decide that they aren’t so different.
The supporting cast is way too big to give anyone room to really shine, but Salma Hayek manages to rise above the muck to deliver a small, hilarious performance that evokes laughs out of a poorly conceived character (if someone can explain to me why her relationship with her cellmate is of any entertainment merit at all, tweet at me or something). Sadly it just made me wish she was the lead rather than a throwaway gag.
There are handfuls of laughs scattered here and there which, in conjunction with a few slick action moments, make the film passable, and for many folks this will be more than enough. To a degree, The Hitman’s Bodyguard delivers exactly what it promises, it’s just that what it promises has been done a million times before, and done better. Why shoot for passable when you have the tools to make something excellent?
The way that the action is shot works as a perfect distillation of what does and doesn’t work about the film as a whole. We have these well blocked set pieces chock full of detail that are hidden behind shaky cameras and hyper-cutting. There are real set pieces (CG enhanced of course), cleverly staged fisticuffs, and moments where a better script and more visual clarity would have provided breathless, high-stakes moments. It’s clear that a lot of the action was designed to jibe with the film’s sense of humor as well, but so much of it is drowned out by rampant stimulation that it’s hard to establish a rhythm.
What I mean to say is that all of the pieces (and then some) are there, but some assembly is required.
Stay through the credits for a stellar outtake.
The Hitman’s Bodyguard opens today in Philly area theaters.
Author: Dan Scully
Dan Scully is a film buff and humorist living in a tiny apartment in Philadelphia. He hosts the podcast I Like to Movie Movie and is the proud father to twin cactuses named Riggs & Murtaugh. Also, he doesn’t really mind when Batman kills people. Follow him on Twitter and Letterboxd.