The hardest movies to talk about (let alone review) are the ones that are “fine.” There’s nothing particularly remarkable about them either way — there’s an occasional chuckle, if it’s a comedy, or a mild gasp, if it’s a thriller. They leave little impression, but you don’t leave the theater upset for having seen them, either. When someone asks how the film was, you say, well, “it was fine.”
That’s The Hitman’s Bodyguard.
The action-comedy stars Samuel L. Jackson as Darius Kincaid, a world-famous hitman, and Ryan Reynolds as Michael Bryce, his reluctant bodyguard. They have an ugly, violent history, but Michael protects Darius because he wants to regain his “triple-A rated executive protection agent” status following an international incident, and because he’s still in love with his ex-girlfriend, Interpol agent Amelia Roussel (Élodie Yung). There’s also a vaguely-defined bespectacled European dictator played by Gary Oldman, and a scene-stealing performance from Salma Hayek as Darius’ imprisoned lover, Sonia.
As you might expect from a movie starring Deadpool and Jules Winnfield, The Hitman’s Bodyguard relies on an easy chemistry between the two leads. When Samuel L. Jackson calls Ryan Reynolds a “motherf*cker” (which he does no fewer than, oh, seven dozen times), or when Ryan Reynolds responds to being called a “motherf*cker” with another sarcastically charming putdown, it’s moderately amusing. But like most action-comedies, once the story tilts away from the comedy and towards the action, it’s easy to lose interest.
(The tangled plot, which takes up twice as much as time as it should and is half as interesting as the screenwriter thinks it is, does the film no favors, either. It’s not Atomic Blonde-level convoluted, but don’t bother trying to keep up with the talk of last-minute testimonies and backroom deals.)
It’s tricky balancing the two genres, but not impossible. In one clever scene, an oblivious Michael is complaining about this and that to an outdoor bartender while Darius is causing all sorts of destruction behind him. It’s an amusing moment of keeping the humor in the foreground and the conflict in the background, which is how action-comedies should work. But it’s quickly interrupted by an endless car-motorcycle-boat chase that blocks the best(-ish) thing The Hitman’s Bodyguard has going for it: uptight Ryan Reynolds and wildcard Samuel L. Jackson’s Felix and Oscar routine.
It’s worth mentioning that, according to Reynolds, up until two months before shooting, the movie was “fairly serious.” But once he and Jackson signed on, the entire script was rewritten to accommodate the two stars in a “frantic” two-week period. It could have used more work: Michael and Darius aren’t defined by eccentricities or character traits but by the actors playing them. You don’t want to strip Samuel L. Jackson and Ryan Reynolds of what they do best, but you also don’t want to place them in what would have otherwise been a direct-to-DVD Eastern European crime flick, and ask them to fill in the “INSERT JOKE HERE” blanks with motherf*ckers and muggings.
There’s a really good movie buried somewhere in The Hitman’s Bodyguard, and every so often, usually in the scenes where Jackson and Reynolds are trying to get a rise out of the other, I was reminded of the far better Spy and Kingsman: The Secret Service. But it lacks Jason Statham and Rose Byrne’s odd energy in the former, and the hyper-stylized set pieces of the latter. There’s nothing bad that sticks out, but nothing good that stands out, either.
The Hitman’s Bodyguard is, well, it was fine.