The Hitman's Bodyguard

 

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An action-packed, overly ambitious comedy-thriller with a very nasty edge.

 
Hitman's Bodyguard, The

Mean spirits: Samuel L. Jackson and Ryan Reynolds

 

There have been countless films about hitmen and a very famous one about a bodyguard. Here, Ryan Reynolds’ minder – or executive protection agent – isn’t guarding Whitney Houston but Samuel L. Jackson, a hitman. It’s an intriguing premise, particularly as the pair of them despise each other. Nonetheless, Reynolds’ Michael Bryce is tasked with escorting Jackson’s Darius Kincaid from Coventry to The Hague in order for the latter to testify against a Belarusian despot (an appropriately despicable Gary Oldman). Needs must.

 

The Hitman’s Bodyguard sits neatly in the long tradition of the buddy – or anti-buddy – movie, shoehorned into an action-thriller template. And few could complain that the film doesn’t deliver on a number of levels. However, it’s not just an action-thriller – it’s also a love story, a farce, a black comedy, a contemporary Western and, at times, something bordering on a horror film. It really does want to have its cake and eat it.

 

Littered with expendable foot soldiers and scurrilous language, the film is squarely aimed at an adult audience. Much of it is blatantly indebted to Quentin Tarantino – Jackson famously played the hitman Jules Winnfield in Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction – but what the movie has in black humour it lacks in chewable dialogue. There is a lot of banter between the two stars and too much of it is tedious. More engrossing is the film’s derivative plotting, or at least the execution of it. In an era of stunning stunts, the film certainly holds its own, from a gut-flipping shoot-out in Coventry to a high-speed chase through the byways of Amsterdam involving a motorbike, a speedboat and a fleet of cars. And for anybody familiar with Covent Garden (in London), they may notice that much of it is furiously intercut with the Dutch city for the same sequence. Needs must.

 

The film is also reinforced with colourful turns from the supporting ranks, in particular a hot-headed, foul-mouthed Salma Hayek as Kincaid’s imprisoned wife, and Élodie Yung as an Interpol agent previously involved with Bryce. And if the on-screen action is not enough, the director Patrick Hughes (The Expendables 3) plies us with flashbacks the better to flesh-out his characters (including a brutal barroom brawl set to Lionel Richie’s ‘Hello’). Fans of Samuel L. Jackson may also be surprised to hear the actor sing – repeatedly. He sings in the car with Reynolds, sings with a busload of nuns and sings down the phone to Salma Hayek. He even sings the song ‘Nobody Gets Out Alive’ over the closing credits, which he also wrote. Much of this is engaging stuff, so it’s a shame that the film is so relentlessly nasty. There’s a particularly horrific torture scene and another sequence in which – spoiler alert – a truck ploughs into a crowd of civilians. It seems unnecessary for a film with such entertainment value to resort to so much cruelty.

 

JAMES CAMERON-WILSON

 

Cast: Ryan Reynolds, Samuel L. Jackson, Gary Oldman, Salma Hayek, Élodie Yung, Joaquim de Almeida, Richard E. Grant, Tine Joustra, Sam Hazeldine, Barry Atsma, Kirsty Mitchell, Yuri Kolokolnikov.

 

Dir Patrick Hughes, Pro David Ellison, Mark Gill, Dana Goldberg, Matthew O'Toole, John Thompson and Les Weldon, Screenplay Tom O’Connor, Ph Jules O'Loughlin, Pro Des Russell De Rozario, Ed Jake Roberts, Music Atli Örvarsson, Costumes Stephanie Collie. 


Millennium Films/Cristal Pictures-Lionsgate.

118 mins. USA/China/Bulgaria/The Netherlands. 2017. Rel: 17 August 2017. Cert. 15.