It’s no secret that the month of August has been a low point at the movies. It has always been known as the month when studios release lesser offerings from their summer movie schedule (although Suicide Squad, despite a thrashing from critics, proved to be a big August hit last year). Because of this, it would be easy to dismiss The Hitman’s Bodyguard, which has ruled the box office the last 2 weekends and is looking to three-peat over a record low labor day weekend. I went in with low expectations but came out of the film significantly entertained because it’s a suitable late August diversion and it’s carried a great deal by the chemistry of its two leads.
The Hitman’s Bodyguard is a throwback to the mixed-race buddy films of the 1990s. Think Bruce Willis/Damon Wayans in The Last Boyscout or Willis (again)/Samuel L. Jackson in Die Hard With A Vengeance. Those movies, and others like them, emphasized the action elements but leavened the thriller aspects with a liberal dose of comedy. The relationship and interaction between Ryan Reynolds and Samuel L. Jackson are like the one Jackson shared with Willis 22 years ago. As in all movies of this kind, the journey has an emotional component as the two antagonists develop a grudging respect and affinity for one another. Of course, that’s not to discount the explosions, shoot-outs, and chases that occur along the way, which are quite effective considering the modest $30 million budget.
When we first meet him, Michael Bryce (Ryan Reynolds) is on top of the world. Working as an AAA-rated protection services agent, he has never lost a client – until now. Predictably, his prospects die along with a Japanese arms dealer. Two years later, he’s down-and-out when he gets a call from the ex-love of his life, Interpol agent Amelia Roussel (Elodie Yung). She needs his help. She and a key witness against vile dictator Vladislav Dukhovich (Gary Oldman) are holed up in a safe house. Their convoy was attacked by Dukhovich’s men and they’re the only survivors; Amelia needs Michael to shepherd her charge safely across Europe to the Hague so he can give evidence in court. Michael reluctantly agrees and, as soon as he discovers who the witness is, he wishes he hadn’t. Darius Kincaid is a notorious hitman who has killed more than 250 people and has made 28 attempts on Michael’s life.
The film’s tone is light & violent, mixing banter, physical comedy, and off the wall action. There are a couple of times when it goes a bit too dark for a movie of this nature (on one occasion, a woman and young child are executed and even though it happens off screen, the reaction is enough to elicit a response). Later, there’s a fairly brutal torture sequence involving electricity and water. For the most part, director Patrick Hughes shows confidence in handling the large-scale set pieces that dominate the film. A few of the chase scenes go on too long but that’s not unusual in action flicks and at least they’re grounded in enough realism that they don’t make you roll your eyes.
The chief pleasure of The Hitman’s Bodyguard is the interplay between Reynolds and Jackson. The former is the straight man and Jackson is, well, the Samuel L. Jackson we have come to know and love. They’re both in their comfort zones and the chemistry is very strong. They also both get their moment to shine in regards to comedy. Reynolds has a particularly funny scene when he’s venting about Jackson’s character as chaos ensues behind him and Jackson has, of course, made profanity an art form so it’s no surprise that most of his scenes shine. His character is light when it counts but it’s no doubt that this man is a killer. This isn’t a PG-13 movie where people get knocked out instead of wiped out. As the body count mounts, we don’t doubt that Darius has killed 250 people. Reynolds is content to play second fiddle, allowing Jackson to hog the spotlight… and the movie is all the better for it.
On the supporting end, Elodie Yung gets to show much more of her personality as the love interest of Reynold’s character. She’s suitably tough but also displays comedic chops she doesn’t get to show on Daredevil or The Defenders as Elektra Natchios. As the villain, Gary Goldman is collecting a check and doesn’t get to play up any comedy. His villain is ultra serious and at times, pretty dark. The real surprise from the supporting cast is Salma Hayek, who plays the wife of Darius. She can keep up with Jackson in spewing dialogue of profane excellence and her scenes make you wish she had been featured a bit more.
In the end, The Hitman’s Bodyguard is harmless and the perfect example of late August releases. It would be easy to dismiss it but with nothing opening over Labor Day weekend, you won’t go wrong by making this your choice for a night out at the movies.
Reel Talk gives The Hitman’s Bodyguard 3 Reels