Hit List

Reynolds, Jackson blast away in retro-flavored, buddy-cop road-trip action comedy

051_HB_00415_CThe Hitman’s Bodyguard
Starring Ryan Reynolds & Samuel L. Jackson
Directed by Patrick Hughes
R

“Boring is always best.”

That’s the motto of Michael Bryce (Ryan Reynolds), the crack bodyguard whose Triple A Protection Service is at the top of everyone’s list for smooth, safe efficiency. He’s “very good at keeping people alive” when other people want them dead.

Until one day, when something goes terribly wrong with a big-ticket job, sending his “ratings” plummeting. Soon Bryce has dropped to the bottom of the bodyguard business.

VLADISLAV DUKHOVICH (Gary Oldman) in THE HITMAN'S BODYGUARD.

Gary Oldman

But he gets a shot at rebuilding and restoring his reputation with an assignment to escort a dangerous hit man, Darius Kincaid (Samuel L. Jackson), who’s being released from prison to testify in Amsterdam at the trail of a notorious war criminal (Gary Oldman) from the former Soviet Union.

A lot of folks want to make sure Kincaid never makes it to the courtroom.

It doesn’t sound like a comedy, does it? But it is. Keep reminding yourself of that, especially in the opening minutes, when you see a bullet punch a bloody hole in a man’s forehead and a young child is executed in front of her father.

The highly contrived plot combines two well-worn Hollywood formulas, the buddy-cop comedy and the road trip, as Reynolds and Jackson embark on an action-packed, 27-hour race to the courthouse in Hague, blasting their way through waves of murderous Euro-assassins, trailing a wake of destruction and spewing a fountain of profanity-laced banter.

Jackson, in particular, is a maestro of expletives. He gives f-bombs syntax, if not musicality, like a Bach of bad words, and The Hitman’s Bodyguard is another of his movie mini-symphonies, like Snakes on a Plane, Pulp Fiction and The Hateful Eight.

041_HB_07732_C

Elodie Yung

Reynolds mixes the mad splatter with droll chatter as Bryce, who’s pining for Amelia (Elodie Yung, Elektra on TV’s The Defenders), the French Interpol agent from his past. Salma Hayek plays Kincaid’s wife, Sonya, a hilariously foul-mouthed Spanish spitfire. If Kincaid testifies, Interpol has agreed that Sonya, who’s being held in an Amsterdam prison for some unspecified crime, will go free.

The movie has a rollickingly retro throwback feel, with warmed-over Cold War baddies, big-rock anthem ballads from the ’80s and nearly nonstop, on-the-move action—armored vehicles, motorcycles, cars, a helicopter, an 18-wheeler with a bomb inside. Almost everything explodes at some point. I halfway expected to see Bruce Willis, Sylvester Stallone or Chuck Norris walk out of the flames.

Two of the best sequences involve a speedboat chase on the canals of Amsterdam, and a hyper-kinetic, drag-out fight that begins in a restaurant kitchen and ends up in a hardware store. If you drop your pistol, just slam someone’s head on the sizzling grill or grab a skillet, a nail gun, a hammer or a chain!

DARIUS KINCAID (Samuel L. Jackson)  in THE HITMAN'S BODYGUARD.

For laughs, it’s hard to top Bryce and Kincaid each trying to annoy the other in the car by singing. Or the flashback sequence where we learn how Bryce met Amelia at a funeral, making out to Foreigner’s “I Want to Know What Love Is” as slow-mo mayhem erupts all around them. Or that Kincaid and Sophie met in Mexico after he watched her, gobsmacked, handle a bunch of troublemakers in a bar to the tune of Lionel Richie’s “Hello.”

At times it made me think of what Midnight Run might have been if Quentin Tarantino had directed it about 15 years later. (Interestingly, one brief little musical snippet, as Bryce and Kincaid roar out of a parking garage, echoes Danny Elfman’s theme music to that 1988 comedy.)

And having a character named Kurosawa—well, that’s either a wild coincidence, or a deliberate nod to the iconic Japanese filmmaker, considered a world cinema icon. The Hit Man’s Bodyguard isn’t exactly world cinema, but hey, at least it apparently knows what that is.

It’s funny, it’s violent and it feels like bits and pieces of a lot of other movies over the years, all held together by a couple of solid, prolific actors riffing off each other and knowing they’re really just marking time between other, better, bigger projects—like Reynolds’ Deadpool 2, coming summer of 2018.

But whatever else it is, it’s rarely ever boring.

In theaters Aug. 18, 2017 

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