Action comedy leans too hard on its leading men
Commercial moviemaking is often a matter of crossing your fingers and worrying about the same thing Gene Kelly did in “Singin’ in the Rain,” when, at the last minute, Monumental Pictures turned “The Dueling Cavalier” into a musical. “You think it’ll get by?” Kelly wondered. Are movie stars enough to sell a breathlessly rewritten paste-up job?
So it is with “The Hitman’s Bodyguard,” which is not a musical but is, according to reports, a breathlessly rewritten paste-up job. Once Ryan Reynolds and Samuel L. Jackson agreed to star in this thing, about a fastidious bodyguard assigned to a hired assassin traveling from England to The Hague to testify against a brutal dictator, a straightup action picture became a crooked sort of action comedy, massively violent but full of wisecracks in between the head shots.
The result is passable stupidity leaning hard on its wily leading men. The movie’s also pretty galling MPAA rating: R (for strong violence and language throughout) Running time: 1:58 Opens: Thursday evening in its unceasing brutality for laughs. Right now some of us may find ourselves disinclined to see a movie with terrorist attacks as sight gags and bodies flying all over London and Manchester and Amsterdam and points in between.
After a fatally botched job, “executive protection agent” Michael Bryce (Reynolds) finds himself scrounging for work and accompanies Darius Kincaid (Jackson) from a Manchester prison to The Hague to testify against the dictator. Meanwhile wave upon wave of Belarusian thugs in league with their murderous former president (Gary Oldman) attempt to kill, and kill again.
The bodyguard and his hit man have a weird history together, which screenwriter Tom O’Connor details in flashbacks recalling the worst of Guy Ritchie’s movies, where the visual footnotes and hyperlinked jumps back in time play like lazy storytelling rather than clever reveals.
Director Patrick Hughes (“The Expendables 3”) manages one enjoyably frantic Amsterdam chase sequence, with Jackson and his busy stunt double speedboating along the canals while Reynolds (and his stunt man) zooms up and down streets on his motorcycle, with Belarusian thugs in hapless pursuit. The ultraviolence I can do without; I don’t care if “that’s how action is these days.”
In a recent interview with Vice, Jackson said he and Reynolds told the filmmakers: “If people get out of the way and let us do what we do, we can fix f---ed-up s--- that’s on the page, and they’ll look like superstars.” This is how things are today. The better and more ambitious the writing becomes on the small screen, in every genre, the more things stay the same at the multiplex. Michael Phillips is a Tribune critic.