The Hitman’s Bodyguard, 2017.
Directed by Patrick Hughes.
Starring Ryan Reynolds, Samuel L. Jackson, Salma Hayek, Gary Oldman, and Elodie Yung.
A top-rated bodyguard struggling to rebuild his reputation after a calamitous mistake, is forced to help deliver an infamous hitman to testify at the trial of a murderous dictator.
From Shane Black’s Lethal Weapon, to Shane Black’s The Nice Guys and err, Shane Black’s Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang (not forgetting Walter Hill’s 48 Hrs or even the Lord/Miller 21 Jump Street update) – all the best buddy movies are built on two totally un-moveable foundations. A winning bromance is a given, but without an absolutely killer, fast-talking script en-tow too, the whole thing very quickly falls apart. Luckily for Expendables 3 director Patrick Hughes, he has both right here, all tied up in a pretty little, Ryan Reynolds-shaped bow. Unluckily for Tom O’Connor’s cleverly old-school script though, there’s quite a few production-based bumps along the way.
Let’s start with the positives, namely, just how utterly fantastic Reynolds and Jackson are on-screen together. Thanks largely to his comedic renaissance more recently, Reynolds is perfectly cast here as a down-on-his-luck bodyguard, forced to ferret around low-rent clients after what we’ll call a “career mishap” some years before. Handy with a gun and heavy on the zingers, he’s basically a slightly less sarcastic Deadpool without the costume here, which totally works for a film that’s as frequently silly as this one is. Jackson is one of the funniest he’s ever been here too, playing the whole thing for laughs, and bouncing off Reynolds’ prim-and-proper bodyguard with the hefty dose of sass the script needed.
On a comedic level, there’s not an awful lot at fault, even if The Hitman’s Bodyguard isn’t exactly the deepest film you’ll ever see. The jokes are mostly one-liners, characters taking pot-shots at each other, there’s barely even so much as a hint of fourth-wall-breaking (which is oddly quite refreshing post-Jump Street) and compared to the superhero CGI fests the summer season is now used to, the whole thing basically feels like it should’ve been made twenty or thirty years ago. In fact, at constant points throughout, Hughes’ film will actually leave you wishing it probably was.
The main brunt of the action here is terrifically handled, loading up on everything from insane car chases along the canals of central Amsterdam, to full-blooded shootouts in the stairways of government buildings. For the most part it’s entirely practical too, but the occasional digital disaster does threaten things with a little wobble here and there. A very obviously fake explosion or two, a building fall that’s very obviously not a building fall; it’s not much, but certainly enough to pull you firmly out of what is an otherwise fairly fun actioner. These newer, cheaper work-arounds have certainly made films like this (that some studios might still consider a bit of a gamble), more financially viable, but in many cases I’m sure most audiences would rather have no explosion at all rather than a cheap-looking animated one.
Which brings us squarely into where The Hitman’s Bodyguard sadly falters most. Budget issues don’t necessarily have to be a problem; some of the cheapest films around, with the right grading and production design behind them, have ended up looking the most professional. Frustratingly though, this isn’t really the case here. On top of some of the dodgy effects mentioned above, there’s a real lack of scope to the world-trekking portion of the adventure here. Replacing the great cities of the world on Reynolds and Jackson’s epic cross-country quest are Manchester and (I shit you not) Coventry; major chase sequences take place on quiet country roads and in (again, I shit you not) pub car-parks, and the head-office of world-renowned intelligence agency Interpol looks like an old disused set from decades-old British soap The Bill.
There’s no denying that the action set-pieces and O’Connor’s roaringly funny script are good enough together to outrun these general production problems overall, but the technical setbacks do end up making the whole thing just feel a lot less fun than it could’ve well been. Throw in a practically invisible Gary Oldman performance and a totally wild-eyed, but underused Salma Hayek and it’s clear to see the potential that’s been squandered here.
While Hughes can clearly direct action as well as some of the genre’s 80s-era greats, and Reynolds and Jackson certainly prove themselves watchable as ever as the leading duo, The Hitman’s Bodyguard just ultimately feels like it’s missing out in one too many departments. With a better villain and a bit more money behind it, this could’ve easily been a surprise summer hit, with another cult following just waiting to happen. But as is, it’s more likely to be quietly enjoyed, then sadly forgotten.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film ★ ★ ★ / Movie ★ ★ ★ ★
Ben Robins / @BMLRobins