There is a wonderful moment in “The Hitman’s Bodyguard” where bodyguard Michael Bryce (Ryan Reynolds) and hitman Darius Kincaid (Samuel L. Jackson) discuss which of them is the good guy. Bryce protects people’s lives, but those he is protecting tend to be bad guys. Kincaid does kill people, but they, too, tend to be bad guys. It is a fascinating philosophical debate and just one idea that “Hitman’s Bodyguard” brings up and then doesn’t fully explore.
Directed by Patrick Hughes, the movie is essentially a buddy cop film where rather than cops the lead characters are maybe not such good people… except that they’re working together (kind of, they’ve hated each other for decades) with the goal of getting Kincaid to the trial of the former President of Belarus (Gary Oldman) who is accused of mass killings. Kincaid is set to be the star witness at the trial and to help put the evildoer away for years.
So, they’re both good guys here and that helps further mute a great idea that isn’t fully voiced in the first place.
I talk about these things because they’re worth noting. However, it’s also worth noting that “Hitman’s Bodyguard” never seems to aspire to a lengthy discussion of good vs. evil, right vs. wrong, or anything else. What it wants to do is exactly what it does – have Ryan Reynolds toss off sarcastic jokes, have Samuel L. Jackson laugh and curse, show oodles of blood and tons of deaths, and maybe toss in an explosion or two.
Everyone’s mileage on that sort of thing will vary. Some will find, as I do, that it’s all too easy for Reynolds and Jackson to offer up these performances; that we’re not seeing them deliver anything we haven’t already seen, it’s just that they’re doing it together for “Hitman’s Bodyguard.” Others will think that having the stars’ personas shine through as they do is the entire raison d’etre for the film in the first place and that it’s therefore a success. I quibble with such a theory, arguing that the dialogue isn’t witty enough for either man, both of whom have repeatedly proven their ability to deliver lines (side note: if you look at any page on this site, you’ll see that it says, “You’re entitled to your opinion, but we’re actually right”).
Just as with the question of whether the men are good or bad, there is a question setup as to whose approach to a situation is better – Kincaid is a seat-of-his-pants kind of guy, while Bryce is a methodical planner. This, too, could lead to a fascinating series of encounters, but “Hitman’s Bodyguard” feels like it comes down unequivocally on one side of the argument without fully exploring the other. It is another idea left on the table.
Also unexplored are the two lead female characters, Interpol agent and Bryce’s ex, Amelia Roussel (Elodie Yung), and Kincaid’s wife, Sonia (Salma Hayek). Should their trip be successful, the men would be doing something helpful for the world, but the motives don’t involve the greater good as much as they are about the men doing these things for the women they do/did/might/could love. Hayek’s Sonia is mainly meant to be played for laughs—and she is completely hysterical in the role, the unquestioned highlight of the film—but she is, by the nature of the story, shunted off to the side. Roussel, while she gets Bryce involved with Kincaid, mainly just puts the pieces into play, and little else. “Hitman’s Bodyguard” is much more about exploring what these men will do for these women (Kincaid is testifying in order to get Sonia out of prison) than it is about establishing an equal and interesting dynamic within the couples.
That isn’t to say that the movie completely fails on this score – flashbacks occur in the film where we see the couples starting out and, at least in the case of Sonia, that establishes them on more equal ground. Plus, that particular flashback is just a great moment in the film.
While the action isn’t filmed in a particularly interesting way, the movie does make regular use of unexpected or over-the-top musical choices which unquestionably adds to the fun of the affair.
I see people who go to see “The Hitman’s Bodyguard” by-and-large enjoying their time with it. It isn’t terribly memorable, but it feels good enough for an easygoing audience looking to hit the theaters one more time this summer. I can’t escape the thought, however, that there’s a parallel universe in which Reynolds, Jackson, Hayek, Yung, and Oldman make one of the all-time great action-comedies, one which talks about serious things, makes the audience laugh, and features some incredible set pieces.
photo credit: Lionsgate