Film Review: ‘The Hitman’s Bodyguard’ has no one to protect it from mediocrity

Every summer, it’s looking more and more like August has become the new February: A dumping ground for mediocre shit that wouldn’t find its way to any sort of financial success if it were released along with the good movies. And that’s fine, I guess, but I just wish they’d drop this shit when it was cold out so we could all not go to it and forget that it exists. Case in point: Patrick Hughes’ The Hitman’s Bodyguard, which stars two of our most easily bankable actors-who-will-still-do-this-shit, Ryan Reynolds and Samuel L. Jackson, and some seriously aggressive advertising — “Get Triggered,” one poster reads, though the only thing I’m triggered by in this case is all the forgettable bullshit I’ve seen over the past five years during the month of August.

So, sure enough, it’s easy for me to say that it’s a forgettable mediocrity, one that has its moments — a few gags landed and a couple of fun fight sequences — but takes too long to get going (it’s two hours long!) and doesn’t really know what it wants to be.

So, a hitman (Jackson), in Interpol custody, is asked to testify against the evil dictator of Belarus (Gary Oldman), and said Belarusian dictator doesn’t want that to happen. So, as a last resort, a professional bodyguard (Reynolds), who’s struggling with his own demons about letting down one of his customers (which is to say the dude got killed; it’s not like he fucked up a Big Mac or something) and his relationship issues, is contracted to get the hitman to the Hague and the ICC in one piece. Of course, they know each other and hate each other initially, because hey, it’s always nice for these characters to have an arc, right? Along the way, they’ll learn about each other, murder a ton of guys, enjoy some hearty laughs, murder more guys, work out their relationship issues with the women in their lives, murder more guys, ride in a van with a ton of nuns, and murder even more guys. It’s pretty standard stuff, frankly, and I’m just glad there aren’t a ton of homophobic jokes in here, which totally would have been the case if this had come out in the mid-aughts.

The humor here is an essential component of its potential success, and it’s a bummer to say that the movie is significantly less funny than it thinks it’s being. The jokes land at about a 50-50 ratio, which is about right for this kind of film at this time of the year. There’s some truly garbage humor here that made me want to run for the exits — for example, an unnecessary and deeply stupid fart joke caps off what would be an otherwise standout scene with a beautifully unhinged Salma Hayek, and a lengthy bit involving Reynolds and Jackson attempting to sing over each other while they travel in a stolen car is ear –splittingly miserable. It’s still hard for me to see why people love Reynolds so much, outside of his work in stuff like Deadpool or The Voices, and especially so when he’s crammed into this forgettable sub-DTV nonsense. This film feels significantly beneath his pay grade, but, then again, it feels like that for every member of the cast, save for Oldman, who’s never met a paycheck he doesn’t like.

Yet it’s not all a wash; Jackson’s got a few brilliant one-liners scattered throughout, and his utter glee at the mayhem he’s causing and witness to is utterly infectious, and as always, there’s a poetry to the way the man can manipulate the words “mother” and “fucker” into comic gold ever time. A flashback to when he and Hayek, his on-screen wife, first met is set in a chaotic Mexican saloon, shot in slow-mo and scored to the dulcet tones of Lionel Richie’s “Hello,” as Hayek murders men in front of him in ways that would emotionally scar all of us causes him to order her a drink after watching in stunned silence (a similar attempt for Reynolds’ character in the latter half of the film doesn’t work nearly as well).

When he and Reynolds are allowed to naturally play off each other, instead of throwing down forced verbiage to fill the silences between action sequences or engaging in Dr. Phil-styled therapy about Reynolds’ relationship problems with a French Interpol agent, they have an excellent rapport. But it’s always funny to me how, over the years, our buddy comedies have added an element of mass-murder to them that’s not totally a tonal fit for the material. I’m most definitely not saying that this film needs to strip away its humor and feature Jackson and Reynolds sobbing into each other’s arms in therapy when it’s all said and done, but it’s a bit of a puzzling development over the last 20 years.

At least it’s done somewhat better than expected. As far as the action’s concerned, it starts out ugly and messy, with a bunch of forgettable gunfights and chases and fistfights that cover much of the film’s first hour, but the film collects itself and makes the last 50 minutes something quite fun. There’s an interesting and vivid chase through the streets of Amsterdam, where Jackson takes to the river in a speedboat to escape Oldman’s goons and Reynolds pursues them on a motorcycle, and the movie totally peaks in a two-pronged assault on the senses: a glorious and destructive car chase following Jackson’s character in a subcompact that was basically held together with duct tape, and a lengthy fight between Reynolds and a crook in a hardware store that contains some of the best physical comedy in the film. Yet, compared to the stairwell fight scene in Atomic Blonde, they’re not that great, and seeing that film perhaps should be your priority. There’s nothing on that level here, but it’s moderately entertaining stuff if you’re in the right mood for it.

So, The Hitman’s Bodyguard is pretty typical mid-August faire from a studio system that has no idea that people still want to go to the movies in the late summer; a moderately entertaining but still quite boring little movie with a body count in the hundreds and solid laughs in the teens. Given that it’s from the director of The Expendables 3, one wouldn’t be remiss to adjust their expectations accordingly. It could be worse, I guess, which isn’t something you really want to be saying after you’ve spent 15 bucks on a movie ticket.

Still, it’s tremendously sad when the funniest thing about the movie is its poster, which in and of itself is a reference to the Kevin Costner/Whitney Houston vehicle The Bodyguard from back in the ’90s. If only the movie were that funny.

Follow Nick Johnston on Twitter @onlysaysficus.