I had high hopes for The Hitman’s Bodyguard. The first trailer and poster directly parodied The Bodyguard and promised a fun clash between Samuel L Jackson’s old school badassery and Ryan Reynolds’ metrosexual charms, with some excellent action sequences thrown in, of course. Unfortunately this isn’t the 90s buddy cop movie we were promised. It is a middling action movie circa the 2010s and has all of the subsequent weaknesses.
The dynamic sometimes works. Reynolds is funny but the script isn’t. His soft eyes and cheesy smile can only go so far to save a script with no subtlety or finesse. The comedy is lazy, at one point just consisting of a fat woman farting in fear. Samuel L Jackson is not an entertaining comic actor. I have found him funny in movies such as Pulp Fiction and Die Hard with a Vengeance, but he is not to be made the comic relief of a whole movie. This is not where his strengths lie.
Consequently a lot of the tension and bonding between the two leads is awkward. Revelations about their past are exchanged with implausible casualness. The two men are given very little reason to like each other, and they are lacking in the kind of chemistry that might allow them to overcome their differences. Even the differences aren’t as interesting as they should be. Samuel L Jackson thinks nothing of killing men when it suits him. Ryan Reynolds only mostly kills men when it suits him. Eventually it’s Ryan Reynolds who has the change of heart, because moderation is clearly the real enemy here.
The female characters lacked agency in the story and largely served as rewards for the male characters. Swearing a lot and occasionally killing someone doesn’t substitute actual character. This is particularly criminal when you have actresses like Salma Hayek and Daredevil’s Elodie Yung at your disposal.
The film also falls prey to a great number of the problems endemic in western action cinema. This includes fast cutting, shaky cam, being too close to the action, CGI gore and explosions, and even some sped up frame rates, all to the create the illusion that something exciting is happening. This obfuscates the actual quality action that does seem to be happening in front of the camera.
There is also something to be said about the frivolity of the violence in the film. Clearly the attempt here is to establish a tone in which the violence has no weight and can be part of the comedy without disrupting the charm. The problem is that the violence has no weight, isn’t funny and completely disrupts the charm. I’m reminded of action comedies such as Lethal Weapon, in which the violence is completely serious, which actually adds weight to the comedy. This might be aiming for Kingsman levels of over-the-top violence, but feels more mean-spirited.
Some things do work. I enjoyed the chase sequence through Amsterdam and the initial gunfight in Coventry (this movie has some strange settings). These sequences brought a real sense of place and scale to the action. There is definitely some decent choreography and stunt work in the film. Cars go spinning, boats are spun around and there are some fun motorbike jumps.
There is just so much wasted potential here. The trailers suggested a fun double header featuring two very different action stars. The finished film, however, is too inconsistent and weighed down to warrant any enthusiasm. It has its moments, but is ultimately forgettable. If you can remember Bastille Day and 2 Guns, it’s as forgettable as those movies. But personally I’ve forgotten them.
2 / 5
Paul Salt is the co-host of One Good Thing.