Do cold-blooded killers deserve legal protection? Is it possible that Gary Oldman is both above and beneath every role he inhabits: an actor who rides high in low art, and makes demanding work feel like a cakewalk? Can Samuel L. Jackson cram onto his CV any more wisecracking parts that have him bellowing lines like “I will bust a cap in yo’ ass!”
If you find yourself bored and/or mentally debilitated during The Hitman’s Bodyguard, the third film from Australian director Patrick Hughes, these questions might help rejuvenate some brain cells. The answer to the last one, of course, is a cinch. Jackson embraced self-parody a long time ago; even before reading Go the Fuck To Sleep. So the answer is yes. Always yes.
His new character, the beady-eyed, hot-blooded, zinger-firing assassin Darius Kincaid, might as well be yelling about getting snakes off planes or reciting verses from Ezekiel. Kincaid makes a deal with authorities, agreeing to testify against a barbarous Eastern European despot (Oldman) – on trial for crimes against humanity – in return for the release from prison of his high-strung, potty-mouthed wife Sonia (Salma Hayek).
To do so he needs to be transferred from London to the Hague. This would ordinarily condemn Kincard to certain death, were it not for a guardian angel (of sorts) to emerge in the form of a straight guy to complement his wacko-jacko: the initially reluctant, highly professional Michael Bryce (Ryan Reynolds). In bona fide buddy comedy tradition, they are chalk and cheese personalities, return-firing excessive amounts of bickering before eventually acknowledging a grudging mutual respect.
Would it have been more interesting if Gary Oldman had played against type as the straight guy, and Ryan Reynolds the villain?
There is an odd early touch in composer Atli Örvarsson’s otherwise orthodox score. In the heat of an intense action scene, Jackson climbs out of a toppled police van all guns a-blazing, while quite possibly yelling “motherfucker!” (I cannot precisely recall this, though statistical probability – given Jackson’s preferred repartee and longstanding record on all things motherfucker-related – suggests a high likelihood that I am right).
On the soundtrack we hear a deep male voice repeating the sounds: “Hoo…ha! Hoo…ha! Hoo…ha!” Like we’re listening to signals accidentally broadcast from some creepy tribal dance in a far-flung location. The more I heard it, the more it sounded like “Hoo-ah! Hoo-ah! Hoo-ah!” I imagined that Al Pacino’s retired army colonel from Scent of a Woman had stormed the editing room and somehow infused the film with his spirit.
The mind wanders. There wasn’t a lot to distract it in this content-to-be-unimaginative, tenuously scripted (by Tom O’Connor) odd couple B movie.
To some extent, the joy in these kinds of popcorn action flicks comes down to the chemistry between the two leads. There’s not much between Jackson and Reynolds: none of the sleepy groove of Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling in The Nice Guys, to use one recent example, or the liveliness of Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart in Central Intelligence, to use another.
There’s never a long wait before the next (competent if unadventurously staged) action sequence, or a fresh round of frenemy ribbing between Kincard and Bryce. Pacing of The Hitman’s Bodyguard isn’t bad, though the 118 minute running time feels hefty, and the cyclical nature of the screenplay (banter/shootout/flashback, wash-dry-repeat) machine-tooled and audience-tested, with little room for departure from formula.
Hughes, who launched his feature film career with the excellent 2010 Australian neo-western Red Hill, occasionally reveals a hint of irony in his approach, but mostly deadpans it. A strangely severe torture scene is tonally out of whack with the rest of the film; more the terrain of Eli Roth than Shane Black.
But for the most part, The Hitman’s Bodyguard is a consistent odd couple action pic – for better or worse – with a grunt and groan and down-to-business style that may please fans of the genre, if expectations are kept low. Would it have been more interesting if Gary Oldman had played against type as the straight guy, and Ryan Reynolds the villain? Another question to throw into the mix.
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