Ac­tion com­edy leans too hard on its lead­ing men

Sun Sentinel Broward Edition - Showtime - Broward - - MOVIES - By Michael Phillips

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.

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