The Hitman’s Bodyguard is a bit of a welcome buddy comedy-action flick sandwiched perfectly between the summer and fall movie season. Although there’s little originality at play, relying all too much on formulaic genre cliches, set ups, and leaps of logic, the film achieves the often dodgy key to a successful buddy comedy: chemistry. Ryan Reynolds and (especially) Samuel L. Jackson are up to the task and their scenes together are strong enough to pivot an otherwise mediocre flick into something a little more entertaining.
The Hitman’s Bodyguard tells the story of a disgraced executive protection agent (Reynolds) reluctantly agreeing to transport a do-gooder hitman (Jackson) to testify against a corrupt Eastern European dictator (Gary Oldman) in hopes of regaining his Triple A status. With the dictator’s thugs in pursuit, the two (naturally) form an unlikely bond as they contemplate the duality of their professions, love, and the meaning of the word “plethora” (à la ¡Three Amigos!).
The film hits most of the expected marks for a buddy action comedy. Imagine all the basic conventions of the genre and they’re there: initial duplicity between the by-the-book character and the crazy, powder keg that turns into a friendship; road trip shenanigans which include an uncomfortable bus trip; the eventual fight and make up session; dueling car radio karaoke battles; fatal injuries coming off as nothing more than mild irritants (hell, early on Jackson is shot in the leg and within hours he’s hopping over staircases and rooftops with only minor bothersome grunts to show for it).
Notwithstanding, those excited to see a pair up between Reynolds and Jackson are going to get exactly what they paid for from Reynold’s sarcastic wisecracks to Jackson’s “motherf–cking” bellows (and there are plenty of them). Curiously, it’s Salma Hayek who memorably steals Jackson’s vulgar spotlight in a hilarious (and appropriately brief) supporting role as his incarcerated wife.
Gary Oldman’s presence, however, draws attention to the film’s most glaring flaw – one that can’t be entirely masked by the enjoyable hi-jinks of its main duo. Oldman, as professional as expected, plays the role straight, enacting deadly, cruel vengeance on those who cross his authoritarian regime. For a film that primarily sports a lighthearted, laid back tone that includes ludicrous Mexican bar fights and singing nuns, it’s difficult to swallow a grimly serious scene that features a mother and child being viciously gunned down in front of a helpless father (with a stereotypical, almost humorous Eastern European soundtrack playing over, no less). Yes, it’s good to keep the stakes high in an action film, but it can be jarring when the overall comic tone has more in common with The Odd Couple II than Lethal Weapon).
While the film may be inconsistent in these regards, the action scenes are quite fun, particularly a boat/motorcycle/car chase through the streets and canals of Amsterdam. While it doesn’t hold a candle to the efforts of this year’s Baby Driver, the practical stunt work and execution here is appreciated (the most overt use of CG being a helicopter flyby shot that I swear was repeated almost frame-by-frame at least three times throughout!).
Overall, The Hitman’s Bodyguard is a fun but flawed matinee pleaser. Fans of the cast are likely to enjoy it and the comedy is effective enough to momentarily dull the aggravations of the recent past.