For what it’s worth, “The Hitman’s Bodyguard” might wind up being your dad’s favorite summer movie of 2017 — assuming he missed “Dunkirk,” of course. The fast-paced, liberally- violent, profanity-laced action-comedy starring charismatic A-listers Ryan Reynolds and Samuel L. Jackson wields a loose, wacky late ’80s- early ’90s charm that, in the right moments, is very broad, goofy, and occasionally quite appealing. Often verging into explosive, cartoonish, but never overly gory or completely slapstick territory, and quick to shoot as many jokes as it busts out bullets, it’s easy to see why the newest film from director Patrick Hughes (“The Expendables 3“) may be catnip to an unassuming August crowd. It’s snappy and never takes its too seriously for its own good. It has a lot going for it.
Unfortunately, there’s nothing terribly interesting about “The Hitman’s Bodyguard” either. Too quick to coast by on the charm of its appealing leads, and never quite witty, clever, or punchy as you hope it’d be, this unassuming, undemanding, undistinguished late summer blockbuster is both the right and the wrong kind of mediocre action-friendly romp. It’s amusing in the right moments and it’s watchable and engaging enough that you don’t begrudge the time spent with it. But there’s not nearly enough to recommend, sadly, and it’s hard to categorize it as anything more than a passable, if mostly forgettable, future Redbox rental.
I’ll try to keep the premise fairly simple: Former triple-A rated executive protection agent Michael Bryce (Reynolds) was once a well-decorated man of class and style, but such a life of grandeur is sacrificed when a botched mission finds him struggling to retain his high-grade professional status. Among the bane of his existence are his former love, Interpol agent Amelia Roussel (Elodie Yung), whom Michael believes is responsible for his failed mission, and the unsophisticated, foul-mouthed, seemingly unkillable assassin Darius Kincaid (Jackson). But both them unwillingly need Michael’s help and expertise when Darius travels to the Netherlands to testify against the nefarious President Vladislav Dukovich (Gary Oldman, playing the role exactly as you would imagine) and to release his imprisoned wife, the sassy, strong-willed, equally foul-mouthed Sonia (Salma Hayek, clearly having some fun in her limited role).
Amelia needs Michael to get Darius to his destination safely and promptly without being killed by the various henchmen out to murder him. He’ll have only a few days to make it happen. Of course, when it comes to someone as unstable, unpredictable and generally batshit crazy as Darius, you’re never going to have easy travels. It also doesn’t help that Michael is more-than-bitter about the 28 times Darius has tried to lodge a bullet inside him. But if Michael completes this dangerous mission, he’ll get his former status back, which means Michael will put up with anything and everything in order to regain his former life. Of course, Michael needs to survive this mission first, which won’t be easy if loose cannon Darius is involved.
It’s easy to see where “The Hitman’s Bodyguard” could succeed. It combines “Planes, Trains and Automobiles,” “The Bodyguard” and “Spy vs. Spy” together into something that’s easily digestible and generally inoffensive, at least to anyone who isn’t squeamish about strong violence or extraneous profanity. If Sam Jackson is involved, he’s practically obligated — assuming your movie is rated R, of course, as “The Hitman’s Bodyguard” very much is — to yell out “motherfucker” at least once. Or twice. Or 50 times. Or 150 times. Like many other elements in Hughes’ latest, such vulgar language grows tiresome, as does the trigger-happy violence and the bickering relationship between our two mismatched leads.
That’s not saying everything is bad, of course. The set pieces are visually appealing, especially as “The Hitman’s Bodyguard” enters its quicker, busier, more frantic second half. There are one or two genuinely inventive action sequences, and Reynolds and Jackson do share an easy chemistry together, which helps forgive a number of the shortcomings presented in Tom O’Conner‘s flimsy, underwritten screenplay. It’s a B-movie with A-list talent, one that’s sadly just almost fun, almost crazy enough, almost enjoyable enough, but never quite.
By the time its overextended third act comes into play, it’s hard to overlook such grievances. The second act, centered around Jackson and Reynolds shooting the shit and generally having a good time, is quite easily the most enjoyable segment of the film. If only the rest of “The Hitman’s Bodyguard” could be so consistently entertaining. It’s not an easy movie to love and it’s not an easy movie to hate either. It’s annoyingly, persistently just okay. And that’ll do wonders for the few (i.e. dad) who don’t want something too taxing, and maybe it’ll provide the perfect refuge for audience members fed up with current events or, in a few months time, curious HBO viewers who want something that’ll keep them moderately entertained. For everyone else, however, they’ll look for something that’s more worth their while. [C+]