If it were ‘88, The Hitman’s Bodyguard would be directed by Walter Hill or Martin Brest, and it'd probably be pretty fucking good. The rudimentary set up is as Hillesque as it gets - a disgraced international bodyguard (Ryan Reynolds) is blackmailed into protecting a wily hitman (Samuel L. Jackson), whom he escorts to the International Court of Justice to testify against a ruthless and bloodthirsty dictator (Gary Oldman) currently on trial for crimes against humanity. Of course, our odd couple were enemies before getting stuck together on this midnight run, having been on the opposite ends of each other's guns during numerous assignments. Now, they've got to put all that shit aside and work together despite their differences, because the tyrant’s goons obviously don't want to see the hitman take the stand. It's a red heat of epic proportions, as the two movie stars are asked to flex every charismatic muscle they've got while sharing almost every scene.
Alas, it's 2017. A different celebrity has been elected President, and instead of Hill or Brest, The Hitman’s Bodyguard is directed by Patrick Hughes, a filmmaker best known for making the third film in a series of tongue-in-cheek homages to the oiled, muscular action movies of the '80s (The Expendables III). It’s a movie that mostly coasts on knowing a sizable section of the audience is going to point to the screen and mansplain-whisper to their girlfriends"that's Nick Fury and Wade Wilson" during the initial reel. At nearly two hours long, The Hitman’s Bodyguard forgets that brevity was the soul of the best movies its formula is derived from, yet doesn't space the adequately staged, shot and cut shoot outs too far apart from one another, injecting enough practical stunt work into the proceedings so that it can skate on the thin ice of an antiquated genre veneer.
All that being said, The Hitman’s Bodyguard mostly works. In fact, it's pretty much the perfect HBO movie; fodder for a lazy Sunday when you just want to chuckle without having to spend too much energy or brainpower. The egregious length means you can zone out a bit during the interminable second act, but then snap right back to attention when Hughes decides to offer up the CGI squib-laden goods (of which there is plenty) throughout the final third. This may seem like an insult, but it's really a high compliment. Those behind The Hitman’s Bodyguard seem to recognize exactly what type of movie it is, and what purpose their picture serves. It's not attempting to reinvent the genre wheel, but rather provide a sturdily crafted programmer featuring a gaggle of familiar faces doing variations on routines we already know they do well.
Speaking of familiar - Reynolds and Jackson are no doubt resorting to shtick in The Hitman’s Bodyguard, but it's a brand both actors distinctly own, so it's difficult to fault them for it. Reynolds' formerly AAA-rated protection agent (don't ask, even the movie makes a running joke out of it) is basically a rejected Shane Black protag; the former champ who got knocked down a few pegs and now slums it, spits one liners, and refuses to shave. Meanwhile, Jackson is slinging "motherfucker" like he's afraid the word is somehow going to be outlawed by an executive order, in-between delivering love life lessons to his newly minted human bullet shield and unloading clips of his own at anonymous ex-KGB assassins. Again, this is nothing you haven't seen before, but it’s still thrilling to watch these leading men do their respective movie star things in the same frame with one another. There's something to be said for a mid-level actioner realizing that it lucked out in getting Reynolds and Jackson together at the peak of their fame, and then letting them deliver exactly what audiences expect and (judging from my auditorium's generous laughter and cheering) desire from their marquee heroes.
If there's a secret weapon in The Hitman’s Bodyguard, it's Salma Hayek, playing the motor-mouthed, incarcerated wife of Jackson's professional murderer. Hayek's already enjoying a magnificent 2017, having turned in one of the year's best performances in Beatriz at Dinner. Here she's allowed to dole out vicious tongue-lashings and physical damage to pretty much anyone around her (a slow-mo sequence where she fucks up an entire Mexican bar set to Lionel Ritchie's "Hello" is a highlight). Too bad the same can't be said about Gary Oldman, whose genocidal despot isn't ever fleshed out or given his own screaming showcase. We're far enough removed from the actor's glory days that there's an entire generation now who only knows Oldman as kindly Commissioner Gordon from Chris Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, instead of the live-wire performer who once advised Christian Slater that it isn't "white boy day". The Hitman’s Bodyguard seems to be reaching for those now hazy recollections with his villainous casting, but the part is unfortunately the most underwritten character in Tom O'Connor's former Black List screenplay.
If there's a major complaint regarding The Hitman’s Bodyguard outside of its length, it's that the movie is ugly as shit. Cinematographer Jules O'Loughlin's DV lens lends everything an abrasively milky aesthetic, as if we're staring at the entire thing through a car windshield that hasn't seen washer fluid in months.Thankfully, Hughes keeps the frame packed with numerous explosions and gunfire, and never lets the comedic exposition carry on for too long. In fact, the cheapo European flair becomes kind of charming by the time Jackson commandeers a speedboat and starts high-tailing it through a lovers' canal with reckless aplomb. The ruddiness is a constant reminder that this is R-rated counterprogramming of the highest order - delivered late in the summer when we're all stuffed on the (admittedly pretty solid '17 slate) of franchise and comic book pictures. The Hitman’s Bodyguard acts as the cinematic mimosa you down after a night of tequila, some $3 hair of the dog Cook's and OJ that eases you into the next day without too much hassle. It may not be Hill or Brest, but it'll do for now.