Here’s a new candidate for your “Movies I Can Live Without” list.
The coarse, violent action comedy “The Hitman’s Bodyguard” gives its first-rate lead actors Samuel L. Jackson and Ryan Reynolds cardboard-thin roles, two paychecks and a photogenic tour of London and Amsterdam. It gives audiences four major car chase sequences and 100 vehicles reduced to scrap metal, by my count. What it gives no one is a reason it should exist.
Neither performer was apparently forced into their roles, but it’s hard to imagine what value they could have seen in the parts. Jackson plays Darius Kincaid, an imprisoned killer for hire with hundreds of fatalities but a heart of gold. You see, he only murdered people who had it coming.
As Michael Bryce, Reynolds is a security professional for hire, now guarding low-rent clients following a reversal of fortune involving a VIP customer’s forehead and a bullet. He’s given responsibility to escort Darius from England to the International Court of Justice in the Netherlands to testify against a brutal Eastern European tyrant (Gary Oldman, ranting imposingly). Together they run roughshod across every thoroughfare, streetscape and scenic canal along the way.
While there are moments of improvisational, self-lampooning energy between Jackson and Reynolds (who does a wicked Jackson impression, by the way), most of their dialogue feels like a sitcom script’s first draft. They follow a rote trajectory from hate-at-first-sight enemies literally out to kill each other to bonded buddies as they run the gantlet of assassins sent to stop Darius from testifying.
Like a teeter-totter, the gunfights surge up when the laughs dwindle down, and vice versa. Balancing those mismatched genres brought Reynolds’ “Deadpool” to an irresistible level of madcap violence this film doesn’t approach.
Director Patrick Hughes (“The Expendables 3”) has a shaky hold on the proceedings. Here the comic relief and blood-soaked carnage collide head-on, diminishing both. While there are elaborate, over-edited yet dazzling action sequences — stunt coordinator Greg Powell from “Avengers: Age of Ultron” knows how to crash a car — they follow the pseudo-rules of a cartoon world. Cars always end a chase by exploding in orange fireballs, machine guns fire at length without ever grazing our heroes, and when they do get shot, it’s only a flesh wound.
As for the comedy, it is more ludicrous and silly than genuinely funny. Jackson’s character is lovey-dovey-committed to his imprisoned wife, Sonia (Salma Hayek), who will be freed in exchange for his testimony.
We see their first encounter in a jukebox-lit Mexican saloon through a flashback that must be the decade’s cheesiest meet-cute. Darius felt instant attraction as he watched the fiery vixen using broken beer bottles to sever the jugulars of a half-dozen bad hombres. They were made for each other. Even Hayek, who can do this kind of hot-tempered señorita in her sleep, can’t find the funny in repeatedly calling Jackson “my little cucaracha.”
Reynolds races through his one-dimensional role as quickly as possible, as if the character’s equal parts of bewildered and angry reflected his own reaction to being connected to the project. Oldman deserves credit for making a particularly nasty, creepy character from his extended cameo. And the crew in charge of vehicular mayhem was impressive. Beyond that, there’s not much here to proudly add to one’s résumé.