The pairing of Samuel L. Jackson and Ryan Reynolds should be a hit it out of the ballpark smash, slam dunk or whatever sports metaphor is apt. The action-thriller-comedy The Hitman’s Bodyguard uses the best of each actor’s skill set and each is having an utter blast in their respect roles as bodyguard (Reynolds) and hitman (Jackson). Our issue is that they do not quite connect in a chemically congruent manner that is integral to a film like this working.
We meet Reynolds as his “triple-A-rated” security service is delivering another happy (and alive) client to their destination, often a journey that includes the world trying to cease their heart from beating. The thing is on this particular day, said client boards his plane, is ready for takeoff, all is well and then… bang!
As Reynolds’ Michael Bryce stares in shock as his client sinks into his private jet seat completely absent of life, soon Bryce’s business will too fall into a slump. That is where the audience catches up with him next. Some time has passed and now the best he can do is take a London-based coked-up lawyer to safety in a manner that is anything resembling “triple-A-rated.”
Jackson is not doing so well either. He is in jail, found guilty for the crimes that comprise his living, killing people for hire. But, he has something that Interpol and the International Court of Justice wants… evidence and testimony against the Eastern European dictator Vladislav Dukhovich (Gary Oldman), who has wiped out legions of his own people. Sadly, all witnesses that have been set to testify never make it to court. Jackson’s Darius Kincaid is their last hope before lack of evidence will send him free. In exchange for Kincaid’s testimony, his jailed wife — the firecracker Sonia Kincaid (Selma Hayek) — will be set free. How romantic, right?
Somehow, Kincaid has to get from London to The Hague safely and that is proving to be a problem, since there is a mole in the European law enforcement group. Amelia Roussel’s agent Elodie Yung has an idea. If there is one man who can get the Hitman to the Hague, it’s her ex-boyfriend Bryce. That is if the two don’t kill each other first along the way.
The Hitman’s Bodyguard does have a number of fantastic sequences that strung together do not completely make it a fully compelling movie. There are two action scenes, in particular, that are extraordinary. One involves Reynolds on a motorcycle while Jackson pilots a motorboat through the canals of Amsterdam. The other finds Reynolds in hand-to-hand combat to the rocking beats of Chuck Berry.
Each actor also gets numerous moments to shine, especially if it involves illustrating why each character is so talented in their given field. It’s just sadly; the two don’t have that electric spark that previous mismatched characters have found in films such as Lethal Weapon, Midnight Run and even Hot Fuzz. It feels forced here where it should come naturally. It’s odd. Both actors are no stranger to finding chemistry effortlessly in each of their respective film careers. We are of the school of thought that in this case it is neither Jackson nor Reynolds’ fault.
It is the script that failed them and never provided any dialogue or meaningful plot movement during their character’s time together that would have enhanced, elevated and enlightened the comic chemistry. Each was prepared to give their all, but never received the means to do so. Tom O’Connor penned a pretty decent story overall, it just is missing its most necessary ingredient — verbal and non-verbal tools to bring these characters together in a manner that is believable. It fails to provide the spice to craft an explosive buddy crime comedy instead of a melodically flat duet where these uber-talented stars should have sizzled.
Director Patrick Hughes (The Expendables 3) has a firm command of the action genre and we look forward to whatever he does next. He does the best he can with the material and provides numerous opportunities for our leads to pop collectively instead of simply excelling solo. His strong suit are the action sequences and they are the highlight in The Hitman’s Bodyguard. Sadly, that is not quite enough to elevate the entire film from flat to freaking fine.
Another thing, Hayek and Oldman each have issues. The former does her best to avoid playing a stereotype of a fiery, temperamental and always angry Latina and the script here fails her too. She delivers in the most explosive of manners, but it is somewhat cringe-worthy in that it is more of a caricature she is given than a fully drawn out character. Then, there is Oldman. He chews the scenery a little less than he has in the past. But, he is given a role to play that is about as two-dimensional as he has ever been asked to portray. An Eastern European despot on trial for murdering thousands, who firmly believes he is in the right, could have been a triumph for the actor. Instead, he, like the audience, is failed by the written word of The Hitman’s Bodyguard.