Those cursed with long memories of miserable sequels to modestly zippy, moderately budgeted action-comedies know the worst-case scenario for Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard: Something akin to RED 2 or, worse still, The Whole Ten Yards.
The best-case scenario for this follow-up to 2017’s The Hitman’s Bodyguard? A less unnecessarily cumbersome experience than its forerunner, initially a more serious script that was given a last-minute rewrite to capitalize on the comic OTP equivalent of Ryan Reynolds (as the bodyguard) and Samuel L. Jackson (as the hitman). In that vein, Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard succeeds. There’s still globetrotting chaos without the problem of grafting goofiness onto an otherwise grim scenario. In other words, no one’s cracking wise seconds after a bomb incinerates protesters or a fascist dictator played by Gary Oldman executes kids point-blank.
Like Live Free or Die Hard meets Luc Besson, HWB follows a Greek nationalist’s effort to dismantle the European Union by knocking out its power grid. Reynolds, Jackson and Salma Hayek (back as Jackson’s titular wife) are forced by Interpol to stop him or face eternal jail time.
However marginally, you have to appreciate the inherent impishness of a woolly beast willing to cast Antonio Banderas as that Greek villain — whose always-hilarious-when-spoken name is Aristotle Papadopoulos, whose look is as if “Liberace banged a set of curtains,” and whose accent is … well, just like Antonio Banderas’s usual voice. Another surprise is less that Morgan Freeman turns up in such a disposable piffle and more that he’s actually enjoying himself. And you wouldn’t expect HWB, of all movies, to suggest the importance of introducing sensitivity to any pursuit of protection. Or to interrogate masculinity in traditional or toxified forms. Yes, someone walks away from a cool explosion. But it’s caused by their rejection of rotten relationship patterns.
HWB also issues a sincere apology for the purposeless and painfully solemn flashbacks that padded the first to two long hours — not by omission but rather by reclaiming them for overblown comic effect. What would have suggested a serious scar to one character’s psyche before comes off as a ghoulish, but good, laugh a la Jackass. Another look back recalls a 1980s film that was always on cable. To hear Reynolds and Banderas specifically reference the movie — and the latter seem utterly offended that no one thinks he’s seen it — is a bonus.
A few frustrations remain. Why such a film would turn any time of note over to Frank Grillo’s humorless Boston bureaucrat remains a mystery. Like its predecessor, HWB only finds its rhythm after so very much first-act screaming. The action essentially replaces the occasional Rube Goldberg-ish snap of the first film (namely a centerpiece Venice canal chase) with Reynolds rubber-manning off cars and buildings with nary a scratch let alone internal bleeding. And just when you think everything looks a bit less smeary and cheap than before, an Italian rooftop backdrop resembles the spoils of a raid on a long-vacated Glamour Shots.
However, the maximal pleasures of Reynolds’ exasperation versus Jackson’s exacerbation eventually hit, complemented by Hayek’s tornadic, but good-intentioned, emotional response to both of them. And at least Oldman isn’t back to play his evil twin brother or his father. But maybe they’re saving that for Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard’s Sister.