Near the end of all the hitmanning and bodyguarding amid down-market European locales in The Hitman’s Bodyguard, a bad guy tries getting the goat of hitman Darius Kincaid (Samuel L. Jackson).
Said villain is definitely on the wrong end of Darius’s gun. So too, he suggests, is Darius as a triggerman who picked his profession purely out of personal pain and not precision or proficiency. Killing him, the bad guy insists, will only lead him one step closer to damnation. Quite a meaty morality-check moment in a movie that, mere minutes earlier, begged laughs from a punchline while terrorists incinerated a plaza full of public protestors with a bomb.
Jackson’s face fills the screen, wrenched as he wrestles with a question he himself posed earlier to bodyguard Michael Bryce (Ryan Reynolds), as only Jackson could so profanely and poetically: “Who’s worse, the person who kills an evil motherfucker or the person who protects them?” And in this moment … Darius cracks a smile.
“Man, I don’t give a fuck about all that,” he cackles — seconds before kicking the foe off a roof, leading to the second visual Die Hard homage compressed within a 10-minute span.
Forget anything beyond known quantities. The Hitman’s Bodyguard is more or less a test of just how far a vehicle can run on fumes of familiar personae. The answer is about 88 minutes … or 30 minutes shorter than the running time.
Indeed, there’s a nasty, brutish, short and effective little buddy-comedy action thriller with Jackson and Reynolds trading suave dick meets smug prick shtick. Not for nothing were these co-stars cast for caustic comic camaraderie, and they trade a handful of decent zingers (even if Reynolds seems visibly annoyed that he has to mark time with this until Deadpool 2). And when finally allowed to rev up Rube Goldberg raucousness and indulge collateral damage rather than damage control, director Patrick Hughes (The Expendables 3) persuasively acquits himself.
So why pad it to two hours through flashbacks with Foreigner soundtracks, feints at Darius’s redemption and jabs that Michael holds knight-errant regrets of love lost for Elodie Yung’s Interpol agent? (Whomever thought Yung could make the jump from 50-inch screens on Netflix’s Marvel series to 50-foot ones should get out of the casting business.)
It’s an unnecessarily cumbersome effort to make each man righteous. Screw the sentiment. They could have as easily, and more entertainingly, lived in a gray area of blowing shit up to get shit done.
Bodyguard once landed on the Black List, Hollywood’s highly vaunted list of well-regarded, but unproduced, screenplays. The frantic, overworked plot boils down to a hitman and bodyguard who dislike each other but are forced to work together when both are marked for death by international forces.
But just weeks before filming began, it was rapidly, and haphazardly, reconfigured into a comedy. Hughes also came aboard to salvage the production when its original director left. His timing for visual comedy is as nimble as a mastodon, but that’s why Jackson and Reynolds are there.
Rarely do the jagged threads of a side-alley stitch job show in a major studio release. Quite suspiciously, no more than two of the four leads share a scene. Salma Hayek plays Darius’s wife, Sonia, indulging her own stock-in-trade stereotype of exotic hot nag, while Gary Oldman plays Dukhovich, a despotic dictator of Belarus introduced in a woodsy clearing — Oldman surveying the land and deciding it’s flat enough to skate upon for a couple hours.
Hell, there is one scene explaining a past run-in with Darius and Dukhovich during which neither Jackson’s nor Oldman’s face appears despite it featuring both characters. Thus, no surprise to see nearly 20 (!) credited stand-ins for the principal players along with the unconvincing stuntmen.
A full third of the film employs odd, smeary visuals, as if the good cameras were out of stock during the two-month window they had to make the film. It’s like staring at a 2D image with the 3D projector cap on or squinting with your eyes wide open; the entire bottom third of the screen blurs out into wormy nothingness at times.
It’s not poor projection, as the second half more or less springs to crisp, vibrant life — just shoddy craftsmanship. It needs 409, not 1080. All the more reason to get angry as the score cuts to something suspiciously like the theme to the far superior Midnight Run.
Instead, this is the sort of film bound for basic cable immortality, during which Bodyguard might catch your attention with its canal chase (easily its centerpiece) or the simple medley of mellifluous “motherfuckers” with which The Inimitable Samuel L. has some free-associative fun — even in an end-credits song he wrote and sang himself.
Just bail at any point when it moves beyond hitmanning or bodyguarding into motivating and moralizing and whatever other high-minded things about which it, like Darius, truly gives no fucks.