THE HITMAN’S BODYGUARD
A buddy action flick starring both Ryan Reynolds and Samuel L. Jackson. The likelihood of needing a swear jar the size of a truck for this one? F**king high.
DIRECTOR Patrick Hughes
CAST Ryan Reynolds, Samuel L. Jackson, Salma Hayek, Gary Oldman
PLOT Disgraced “protection agent” Michael Bryce (Reynolds) is coerced into transporting assassin Darius Kincaid (Jackson) to The Hague to testify against an evil dictator (Oldman).
TYPIFIED BY THE work of Shane Black, the buddy action comedy was a Hollywood staple in the ’80s and ’90s, partly because on each occasion the audience knew exactly what they were going to get: a mismatched couple (often one conventional, one rule-breaker; sometimes one black, one white), pitched together to take down a Big Bad, crack wise and teach each other some life lessons along the way. This was all seasoned with car crashes, punishing punch-ups and the obligatory jump off a tall building with no chance of survival. That the model fell out of favour is partly down to an audience drawn away from star power to super-powers, but more pertinently, to the fact that everyone had learned the beats and arcs backwards. Familiarity didn’t breed contempt; it sired apathy.
Given its absence from the screen, the idea of bringing back the buddy action comedy feels both nostalgic and refreshing in its simplicity. Unfortunately, The Hitman’s Bodyguard isn’t the bullet-ridden vehicle to do it. On paper the ingredients seem perfect: Tom O’connor’s script was on the 2011 Black List of the hottest unproduced screenplays and the casting — the slick persona of Ryan Reynolds and the attitude of Samuel L. Jackson — seems inspired. But
The Expendables 3 director Patrick Hughes’ film never finds the energy, chemistry and surprises to make the over-familiar concoction thrive.
In terms of buddy action comedy lore, Reynolds’ Michael Bryce is The Sensible One. Bryce is a play-it-by-the-book “triple A-rated security guard” whose reputation is in tatters after his high-profile Japanese client (Mr Kurosawa — honestly!) is taken out. Forced to take on a lower-grade form of client (including Richard E. Grant), he is called by Interpol agent and ex-girlfriend Amelia Ryder (Élodie Yung, Elektra in the Netflix Daredevil series) to shepherd the improbably named Darius Kincaid (Jackson), the world’s most respected assassin, to testify against merciless European dictator Vladislav Dukhovich (Oldman, ticking the Brit villain box). And, of course, Kincaid has tried to kill Bryce 28 times.
So what follows is a Eurotrip that flips from the UK (including, perhaps, cinema’s first action sequence set in Coventry) to Italy (there is a fun sing-song with a group of nuns, much to Bryce’s embarrassment) to The Hague, where an extended car-boat-bike chase is borderline interminable. The violence is brutal, the body count high, but there is an uninventive feel to Hughes’ staging of the action — it’s fair to middling octane at best. There are some Tarantino-esque tweaks to add a different flavour: Salma Hayek as Kincaid’s incarcerated, yoga-loving, hard-nut wife pops up from time to time and a flashback to her beating up a roomful of heavies to the strains of Lionel Richie’s Hello, while Kincaid looks on smitten, adds a fun note.
Still, a buddy action comedy lives and dies on the sparring and chemistry of its star pairing. Despite attacking the material with gusto, Reynolds and Jackson can’t make substandard repartee (“Eat my ass!” “That’s what she said”) and rote character arcs land. By the time their initial hatred has blossomed into mutual respect, the fun, like Bryce and Kincaid, has leapt blindly off a tall building.
VERDICT The leads work hard and there’s an attempt to add fun via cheesy music and Salma Hayek, but hackneyed dynamics, half-baked action sequences and saying “motherfucker” a lot does not a Shane Black make.