Living as we do in the time of Rotten Tomatoes and other online grading platforms, the simple art of the aggressively 3-star action movie seems to be on the wane. People these days are so concerned about how great other people rate films before they’ve seen them themselves we now have a culture that needs to dub everything as “perfect” and anything that has the audacity to be slightly less than that is nothing more than hideous trash and must be cleansed in a dumpster fire before the world can move on. This concept, despite being fairly sound if you’re on a budget or massively agrophobic, somewhat removes the fun from the days when you just could go out, watch an enjoyably average movie, and chat about it’s pros and cons over a meal afterward – or even during the film you’re streaming at home). What I’m trying to say is that the world is big enough to have a place for everything in today’s market, especially slightly wonky knockabout buddy movies. This, predictably, brings us to The Hitman’s Bodyguard, a sweary action comedy that should’ve more accurately been dubbed “Motherfucker: The Movie” that wears it’s three star rating with pride.
Michael Bryce is a top class bodyguard who, thanks to his meticulous planning has never lost a high quality client – until he does, which causes him to spiral into a bottomless pit of self loathing and bitterness. As a result his relationship with Interpol agent Amelia Roussel is in tatters, his career is in the doldrums and the best quality clients he can get end up being cocaine hoovering con men who probably deserve the bullets that are whizzing at them. On the flip side, renowned international hitman Darius Kincaid has decided to turn in evidence to convict poison scarred Russisn despot Vladislav Dukhovich of crimes against… well, everyone apparently and is doing so to secure the release of his frankly terrifying wife, Sonia. However, after the convoy that was supposed to take Darius to the Hague is turned into swiss cheese by an ambush from Dukhovich’s men, Ameilia has no choice but to call in help from the only person in the area – Michael Bryce, the shell of a man she used to date.
Reluctantly agreeing to babysit the massively sarcastic and tremendously easygoing Kincaid, the incredibly uptight Bryce has less that 24 hours to get his charge from London to the Netherlands in one piece, but despite the tight deadline they also manage to find time to squeeze in an immense amount of old couple, buddy comedy schtick, not to mention a ton of elaborate, shooty action sequences as a begrudging, if very prickly, respect predictably starts to form and Bryce starts to question the outlook of his previous life… usually while flying through a car window.
Despite the fact that The Hitman’s Bodyguard features a scenario that puts it’s two lead actors in extraordinarily familiar surroundings – both Jackson and Reynolds can do (and actually have done) this kind of thing in their fucking sleep – but weirdly, the result of this pairing doesn’t provide anything that new. The two famously verbose leads go through the usual routine we’ve seen a million times before where they don’t get on, they fight, they sort of get on, they fight some more, they get on and then they fight everyone else, but the problem is we’ve also seen this done way better. This does, after all, tread firmly on Shane Black territory who pretty much gave us the last word on mismatched buddy movies with the magnificent one-two punch of Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and The Nice Guys and no disrespect to anybody involved, obviously The Hitman’s Bodyguard isn’t close to this sort of calibre – but that doesn’t mean it isn’t fun and this circles back to that “triumphant 3-star” talk I started us off with.
Jackson and Reynolds are the two finest swearers currently working in Hollywood today and with the former playing laid back and the latter playing coiled spring, their comedy pairing yields frequently funny, if a little unfocused, results which is usually a sign of too much a living (Reynolds, I’m looking at you, you beautiful chatter box). Providing plentiful action that proves to be as glib as the snarky dialogue, the refreshingly brutal violence turns out to be as middle of the road as the script – vehemently bloody, yet simultaneously pretty standard and yet also sweetly entertaining. While plenty of real estate (plus spines and necks) are enthusiastically broken, the action movie mold stubbornly isn’t and even though it all moves as slick as shit off a shovel, there’s nothing game changing he whatsoever – although there’s a potentially lethal drinking game to be had from the sheer amount of bad guys firing wildly from a moving car window…
Where the script and laughs are reassuringly predictable, the supporting cast turns out to be brow furrowingly high class. Salma Hayek as Jackson’s imprisoned simply wife sits in a cell while bellowing a constant stream of swear words at everyone within spitting distance, while a puffy Gary Oldman dusts of his Air Force One accent to play a villain who genuinely feels he’s stalked in from another, much more serious movie.
To put matters lightly, the tone is as inconsistent as an out of control pendulum with with the ethnic cleansing subplot of bad guys rubbing up awkwardly against the good natured bickering of the two leads, but when The Hitman’s Bodyguard finally gets around to attacking a joke with focused precision it scores some memorable bullseyes. A flashback involving Jackson reminiscing how he met his wife in a barfight while “Hello” plays on the jukebox is brutal, silly and totally genius. Kincaid’s lovestruck expression twinned with Sonia ripping the throats out of a gang of violent thugs with a broken bottle in dreamy slow motion set to the soft crooning of Lionel Richie is one of those moments where you realise that the filmmakers have perfectly pulled off exactly what the tone of the film was trying to achieve all along.
So no, The Hitman’s Bodyguard may not be art, but it IS fun and it’s endearingly (but knowingly) daft, and watching these two leads scream obscenities at each other makes up for any drag that simultaneously earns every star of it’s three star rating despite thoroughly denying it any more. In short, it may not hit the target every time but it still has enough killer material to be a diverting couple of hours – ie. the very epitome of three stars.