Review: ‘The Hitman’s Bodyguard’ Needs A Babysitter

The Hitman’s Bodyguard so wants to be this generation’s Midnight Run. Some may recall the Martin Brest comedy where Robert De Niro played bounty hunter Jack Walsh, hired to find and return bail jumper Jonathan Mardukas (Charles Grodin), a former Mafia accountant. Pursued by the Mafia, the FBI, and a rival bounty hunter, they travel cross-country from New York to LA.

Bodyguard takes that template but instead going from the East Coast to the West Coast, it’s get to The Hague to testify. Pairing Ryan Reynolds and Samuel L. Jackson, two actors that know a thing or two about comedy (and superhero movies), seems perfect on paper. Both are fun and charismatic, and it’s easy to see why they signed on to do this buddy action-comedy. However, a dilemma develops when neither wants to play the straight man in this movie.

Michael (Reynolds) is a triple-A rated protector until losing a high-profile client sends his career in a tailspin. On the way down his girlfriend, Interpol agent Amelia (Elodie Young), dumps him. Now he takes random jobs like escorting a drug addict lawyer to safety. Not quite the same ballpark as shepherding foreign diplomats. A shot at redemption comes calling as Amelia needs his help in getting a hitman to the international court to testify against war criminal and former Russian president Vladislav (Gary Oldman, in need of a house payment). The hitman is none other than Darius Kincaid (Samuel L. Jackson). Michael and Darius have an adversarial history, and both must set aside those ill feelings if they are going to make it to the Hague in one piece. Vladislav’s hired henchmen and a corrupt official try to complicate matters but it is Michael and Darius’s personal differences that are the biggest culprits in this misbegotten comedy.

The Hitman’s Bodyguard is not bad. It’s generic, which may be even worse than labeling something as bad. This buddy comedy has chases and shootouts littered with bad CGI effects and chaotic editing. The first encounter between Michael and Darius is bad enough in trying to cover for the age discrepancy of its two leads. And because they are so skilled with firearms they should be in a different movie altogether – like Wanted or the recent The Dark Tower, where it’s okay if bullets defy the law of physics. Vladislav’s goons are no contest for an old-school assassin missing an eye patch and Deadpool without his costume.

Patrick Hughes got off to a promising start with the Australian western Red Hill (only to follow that with The Expendables 3), but his direction, like the movie, is by the numbers. The jokes levied are more whiffs than hits. There are some self-referential wisecracks (like Michael acknowledging that Darius single-handedly ruined the word “motherf*&%er” – a dig at characters Sam Jackson has played in the past) that might get a laugh or two. If only the script had better situations in which to dispense such jokes, instead of Reynolds standing with a hound dog expression talking to a street vendor as Jackson is in shoot’em-up mode in the background.

Probably the lone bright spot is Salma Hayek as Darius’s imprisoned wife. Too bad she is only present in a few scenes. Her temper is perfect in a flashback sequence showing how she and Darius met, and it’s all set to Lionel Ritchie’s “Hello”.

Now this may be nit-picky on my part but Reynolds’ character makes it clear early on that in his profession he doesn’t mortally wound those who try to kill his targets. He’ll subdue them with kicks and elbow strikes and tie-wraps. Yet when both he and Jackson work together it seems that Reynolds forgets his moral code and lets bullets fly without remorse. That’s just lazy writing.

In a season where sequels and franchises suffocate cineplexes, The Hitman’s Bodyguard could have been a fun, original romp. Instead, this bodyguard needs a babysitter the worst possible way. If this movie was released in the late 1980s or early 1990s when theaters were inundated with buddy comedies like Tango & Cash and Harley Davidson & the Marlboro Man I could see the appeal. In 2017, it only recalls those odd-couple pairings that at least try to abide by the straight man/comic approach. Without the involvement of Ryan Reynolds and Samuel L. Jackson this would have been dropped as a VOD title and released to the home market with little fanfare. In theaters, sadly, it will be moderately successful and find a larger audience that last summer’s The Nice Guys (a superior buddy comedy) failed to achieve.

Director: Patrick Hughes
Writer: Tim O’Connor
Cast: Ryan Reynolds, Samuel L. Jackson, Elodie Young, Gary Oldman, Salma Hayek
Rating: R (for strong violence and language throughout)
Running Time: 118 minutes

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