New York,August11:Having directed nearly every other male action star (and a slew of top-billed non-stars) in The Expendables 3, Patrick Hughes adds Ryan Reynolds and Samuel L. Jackson to his stable in The Hitman’s Bodyguard, an action-comedy that takes the Midnight Run template to The Hague. The tweak here, as one will guess from the title, is that this tale’s protector (Reynolds) may be redundant given the lethal skills of the man in his care. That question prompts much bickering in this diverting but hardly thrilling romp, which fails to develop much chemistry between its stars despite their individual charms.
Though likely to perform much better than that 2014 Stallone/Willis/etc./etc. flop, the pic won’t sate those who in Deadpool found Reynolds to be a perfect mixologist of violence and self-aware comedy. Jackson’s admirers may have a better time, if only because it’s one more chance to see him play someone other than Nick Fury.
When we meet Reynolds’ Michael Bryce, he’s on top of the world: head of a personal-protection empire that works like clockwork and is (as we’ll hear ceaselessly) “Triple-A rated.” Then he somehow lets a Japanese arms merchant catch a bullet through the forehead, and things fall apart.
Two years later, Bryce retains his skills but is working for peanuts, wearing a busted watch and shuttling clients around in an economy car that (as we’ll hear ceaselessly) “smells like ass.” But he’s about to get a shot at redemption.
Bryce’s old girlfriend, Interpol agent Amelia Roussel (Elodie Yung, Elektra in Marvel’s Daredevil), has learned that a mole in the organization compromises the safety of a prisoner entrusted to her. She needs someone completely out of the loop to take care of Jackson’s Darius Kinkaid — and who’s less in the loop than Bryce, who blames his disgrace on her? After she promises she can get him back in the good graces of high-rolling clients, Bryce agrees to help.
Kinkaid needs protection because, despite being in prison for innumerable counts of murder-for-hire, he’s the star witness in an International Criminal Court case against Belarusian war criminal Vladislav Dukhovich (Gary Oldman), who has an army of goons intent on killing him before he testifies. In a preposterous contrivance, Dukhovich is going to be set free by the ICC if Kinkaid can’t make it from London to court in The Hague by 5 p.m. that afternoon.
From the start, Kinkaid displays an eagerness to leave his custodian behind and kill his would-be assassins by himself. But he’s never looking to actually escape: He’s willing to serve out his life sentence for his own crimes, so long as officials will keep their promise to pardon his also-imprisoned wife Sonia (Salma Hayek) if he cooperates. (In a dopily amusing flashback, we see how force-of-nature Sonia won Darius’ heart in a cantina brawl years ago.)
Though they’re at each other’s throats throughout, the two men obviously need to work together if Kinkaid is to testify and Bryce is to relaunch his bodyguard firm. Tom O’Connor’s screenplay works hard to stretch their feud out to sustain second-act conflict, but its banter is uninspired, hardly distracting us from the cookie-cutter nature of the underlying plot.
Even with the relative novelty of Dutch settings (which allow for a boat-cars-motorcycle chase sequence in Amsterdam), the picture feels far more generic than its A-list cast would suggest. A couple of scenes that ironically employ soft-rock standards suggest that the filmmakers were shooting for a more smart-ass tone, but Atli Örvarsson’s overheated score works strenuously against that effect, as does Hughes’ pedestrian direction. The Hitman’s Bodyguard offers more than enough shoot-’em-up to keep multiplex auds munching their popcorn, but sharper talents behind the camera might have made it considerably more enjoyable.
Production companies: Millennium Media, Nu Boyana Film Studios, CGF
Distributors: Lionsgate, Summit Entertainment
Cast: Ryan Reynolds, Samuel L. Jackson, Gary Oldman, Salma Hayek, Elodie Yung, Joaquim De Almeida, Kirsty Mitchell, Richard E. Grant
Director: Patrick Hughes
Screenwriter: Tom O’Connor
Producers: John Thompson, Matt O’Toole, Les Welson, Mark Gill
Executive producers: Avi Lerner, Trevor Short, Boaz Davidson, Jason Bloom
Director of photography: Jules O’Loughlin
Production designer: Russell De Rozario
Costume designer: Stephanie Collie
Editor: Jake Roberts
Composer: Atli Örvarsson
Casting directors: Elaine Grainger, Marianne Stanicheva
Rated R, 118 minutes