THE HITMAN’S BODY­GUARD

Empire (UK) - - ON.SCREEN - IAN FREER

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 even­tu­ally 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.

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