Review: The Hitman’s Bodyguard

I didn’t really want to see The Hitman’s Bodyguard. Ryan Reynolds and Samuel L. Jackson are fine, but I had no strong desire to watch them both play their respective public personas in a schlocky action film. I figured I can watch them do their shtick in better films. Turns out I was wrong. The shtick in this flick is actually enjoyable. Too bad the rest is a bit of a tonal dumpster fire.

The plot centers around the titular bodyguard (Reynolds) escorting the titular hitman (Jackson) from England to Amsterdam to provide crucial testimony against a bloodthirsty Belarusian dictator (Gary Oldman). I didn’t even know Oldman was in this movie, and he represents a lot of what doesn’t work in The Hitman’s Bodyguard. Genocide in a small eastern European country really isn’t a fun topic. Yet The Hitman’s Bodyguard is undeniably trying to be fun. Oldman doesn’t even feel like he’s in the same movie, and there’s an undeniable disconnect between him and the main pair as they argue over the finer points of the word “motherfucker.” Jackson’s connection with Oldman isn’t even revealed until the last fifteen minutes of the film, so by the time we understand Jackson’s motivations the movie’s over.  About ten minutes before that reveal, Reynolds even suggests to Jackson that they pass on trying to make the trial, and I honestly couldn’t figure out why Jackson didn’t take him up on it. That’s a little bit of narrative sloppiness. We probably should understand our protagonists’ relationship to the villain before the final action scene.

There’s also a weird focus on morality. It’s not really consistent throughout the film, but it occasionally seems to want to grapple with the question of who is more morally dubious, the hitman or the bodyguard. It leads to some weirdly heavy backstory that is about as tonally jarring as the mass murders in Belarus. The film also very firmly chooses a side (I won’t reveal which), but the other character is not presented as changing morally. So, what was the point of questioning these characters’ morality exactly? Were they worried we wouldn’t like these characters if we couldn’t see moral motivation in their (deplorable) actions? They hired Samuel L. Jackson and Ryan Reynolds for the express reason that they wouldn’t have to develop the characters to get results. These choices feel counter-intuitive.

The good news for The Hitman’s Bodyguard is that Jackson and Reynolds have good chemistry, and Jackson’s foul-mouthed toughness plays well off Reynolds’ Canadian snark. When the two are given time to riff off each other, the movie works. There’s also some really fun action. A standout scene involves Reynolds in a hardware store. Although some of the editing in the action sequences can feel a little sloppy and disjointed, it hardly registers as a problem next to the film’s other issues. If you generally enjoy Jackson and/or Reynolds, there’s probably enjoyment to be found in The Hitman’s Bodyguard, but be prepared for dark backstories and a horrible crime against humanity (literally, that’s not a joke) between the banter.

Cake Rating: Like four mini-cupcakes while trying to convince yourself its somehow less than one regular cupcake. You’re fooling no one!

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