Let’s begin with the most obvious question: who the hell asked for “Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard”? The original “The Hitman’s Bodyguard,” released in 2017, is an exercise in soulless, humorless, glossy “style”: boring (but endless) action, musty-ass buddy byplay, nonsensical needle drops, and a drop-dead certainty there is absolutely nothing on this earth funnier than the utterance of a four- or twelve-letter word. It seems like a movie made by and for 12-year-olds, but it’s rated “R,” which is why it’s so shocking that it grossed $176 million worldwide, which I guess answers the original question. If you bought one of those tickets, you’re the person who asked for “Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard.” And I’m not happy about it.

READ MORE: The 100 Most Anticipated Films Of 2021

The original film wastes the talents of Ryan ReynoldsSamuel L. JacksonSalma Hayek, and Richard E. Grant. This sequel brings them all back and pays Antonio Banderas and Morgan Freeman to do some slumming as well. Banderas plays a Greek gazillionaire who attempts to thwart the country’s expulsion from the EU by threatening to take down Europe’s infrastructure, so we’ve got hackers and coordinates in briefcases and a stolen diamond drill and, and thus, as is stated just before the climax, in case you’ve shown up late or have forgotten the title of the movie you’re watching, “The fate of Europe is in the hands of a hitman… and a bodyguard!”

READ MORE: Summer 2021 Preview: Over 50 Movies To Watch

You see, for reasons that could only make the most fleeting seconds of sense to the picture’s screenwriters, a rogue Interpol agent (Frank Grillo) forces bodyguard Michael Bryce (Reynolds), hitman Darius Kincaid (Jackson), and hitman’s wife Sonia Kincaid (Hayek) to go undercover as criminals attempting to buy those coordinates…or something. The first film’s screenwriter, Tom O’Connor, is one of three credited scribes on this one (and director Patrick Hughes also returns), but they have to undo much of the previous film’s resolution to make this one exist: They don’t so much as mention, much less include, the ex-girlfriend (Elodie Yung) that was Michael’s entry point and motivation, or attempt to explain away their reconciliation at the story’s conclusion; similarly, they ignore the (inevitable) begrudging affection Michael and Darius arrived at as well. 

Instead, they reset Michael to the point of weakness, desperation, and despair where he began, as he attempts to take a “sabbatical” from guns and violence, on the orders of his psychiatrist. (The “on sabbatical” bit is one of the film’s few clever ideas; “I’m not doing guns right now,” he explains, as he takes out thugs with pepper spray.) He’s pulled out of that oasis of calm by Sonia, a character who again consists of one single, sad joke: she’s petite and pretty, but you see, she’s also foul-mouthed. Can you imagine such a thing? Darius has been kidnapped, and she needs Micheal’s help, so briefly, per the film’s title, he is indeed the hitman’s wife’s bodyguard, allowing Hughes and his writers to replicate the earlier film’s dynamic (and some of the same gags). But then they rescue Darius, and from that point on, Michael is … basically just the hitman’s bodyguard again. I call title fraud! (And don’t even get me started on that missing “The.” It’s cleaner, I guess.) 

READ MORE: ‘Fast & Furious: F9’ Is A Silly, Self-Aware & Hugely Satisfying Theme Park-Esque Ride [Review]

Anyway, the central gag is that Sonia wants to use their daring undercover mission as her and Darius’s honeymoon, and hopes to start a family, and so on. This leads to an abundance of situations and dialogue that feel like they should be jokes – they have the cadence and format of them – but are seldom actually, y’know, funny. I counted exactly one good line, from Michael, regarding Sonia’s suitability as a mother: “I wouldn’t leave a Chucky doll in her care!” And I chuckled once more, when Banderas affectionately referred to “Overboard” as “a minor classic.”

That’s one of several scenes he and Hayek share, and I’ve spent nearly twenty years wanting them to do another film together but… not like this. Not like this. In fact, there’s a moment near the end where Banderas cracks his neck before going in for the kill, just as he did in “Desperado,” and it mostly serves as a cruel reminder of how far we’ve all fallen; that point is driven home by the climax that follows, in which it’s simply depressing to watch so many genuinely great actors (and their stunt people) unconvincingly wail on each other. 

“The Hitman’s Bodyguard” wasn’t exactly a fresh bouquet of roses, to begin with – the buddy action comedy is one of the wheeziest subgenres still kicking – so the idea of rehashing it at all feels like a copy of a copy of a copy. The jokes don’t land (sample dialogue: “This isn’t a honeymoon – this is a shitty-moon!”), and though the action sequences are reasonably kinetic, they’re all pitched at the same velocity and tempo, which ultimately renders them (unpleasantly) exhausting. And as with the first film, their adjacent visual effects – explosions, fires, even choppers in the air – are jaw-droppingly unconvincing. (Plus, hand to God, they trot out the walking-away-from-the-explosion thing without even winking at it. Even terrible movies like “My Spy” at least know to wink at it!)

Grillo’s character is a comically worn-out cliché (a Boston cop – and a loose cannon!) but he, at least, is having a good time. Hell, they all seem to be having fun, but that doesn’t translate; it’s like looking through the window at a party you weren’t invited to. Credit where due: “Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard” is at least shorter than its predecessor (it’s a trim 90-ish minutes before credits, nearly a half-hour less than the endless original), and there’s a consistency of tone that was absent from “The Hitman’s Bodyguard,” a serious action movie that got a “frantic” comic rewrite a couple of months before production, which showed in the final product. So, to damn with the faintest of praise, “Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard” is a marginally better movie than “The Hitman’s Bodyguard.” But that’s kind of like saying that getting stabbed in the gut is marginally better than getting stabbed in the neck. [D+]

“Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard” arrives in theaters on June 16.