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Sunday, August 20, 2017

The Hitman's Bodyguard

The Hitman's Bodyguard is an energized throwback to a genre long dormant in Hollywood - the action comedy centered on two people who despise each other, but are forced to work together in order to survive.  This genre was nearly everywhere throughout the 80s and even the early part of the 90s.  Notable examples included 48 Hours, the original Lethal Weapon, Midnight Run, Tango and Cash and The Last Boy Scout.  Not only does Hitman know the best aspects from these type of films to use as inspiration, but it gives us some genuine laughs and surprisingly strong thrills for a late summer blockbuster.

What director Patrick Hughes (The Expendables 3) has done is given us an old fashioned summer movie that, save for a few modern day references to cell phones, could have been made back in the 80s, and probably would have starred Schwarzenegger, Stallone or Willis in one of the lead roles back in the day.  The movie's mix of strong violence and playful word humor, along with some physical comedy, usually hits the right balance.  I say usually, because there is one moment early in the film where it is implied that the villain kills a wife and child that has no place being in a lighthearted comedy such as this.  Save for the rare misstep, the movie is just plain fun.  The lead stars (Ryan Reynolds and Samuel L. Jackson) are obviously barely hiding their grins as they do their scenes, and it's just joyful to watch them play off each other.  The film is as much fun to watch as it obviously was to make.

Reynolds plays Michael Bryce, a man who once had a reputation for being the best in the business when it came to protection services.  His job was to transport people who others wanted dead safely to a destination, or out of the country.  That all came crashing down when two years ago, he lost his first client - a Japanese arms dealer who was assassinated right before the plane took off.  Since then, he's still in the business of protection, only he now drives a crappy car, and his clients are much lower on the ladder of importance, such as lawyers strung out on drugs.  Out of the blue, he gets a phone call from a former girlfriend, Interpol agent Amelia Roussel (Elodie Yung), who is forced to turn to him for help.  She's been placed to protect a hitman by the name of Darius Kincaid (Samuel L. Jackson), who is needed alive in order to testify against a tyrannical dictator (Gary Oldman) currently standing trial.  Due to a mole within Interpol, armed thugs have discovered Kincaid's location, and are now tracking him down and killing anyone who gets in their way.  Michael and Kincaid have had their share of differences during their run-ins in the past, but now must work together if Kincaid is able to make it to the trial alive, as he's the only witness that hasn't backed out.

Turns out Kincaid has 250 kills to his name, and has made 28 attempts on Michael's life over the years.  Naturally, this leads to a lot of tension as the two are forced to hit the road together, while dodging the various people trying to make sure Kincaid does not testify.  This not only leads to some strong and occasionally laugh out loud funny interplay between Reynolds and Jackson, but it also leads to some very well done action sequences and car chases that, like the films it draws inspiration from, seem to be done with largely physical and practical effects instead of CG.  Also like the films it seems to be following the path of, it is unapologetically R-rated, with four letter words making up a majority of the dialogue.  We expect this from Reynolds and Jackson with their humor, but the big surprise here is Selma Hayek, who plays Jackson's wife, and is often hilarious as she tries to out-curse her male co-stars in a lot of her scenes.

The Hitman's Bodyguard is not a smart movie, but it knows what it's doing.  It's well-made, has plenty of scenes that allow its stars to fling comic insults and one liners off of each other, and is thrilling enough that the audience holds their breath during some of the narrow escapes.  It's also smart enough to put its actors in roles that they are comfortable in.  Jackson is the bombastic loudmouth with a profanity-laden zinger for any situation, while Reynolds is the slightly more laid back straight man.  And yet, these are not just "types" that the actors are playing.  We get to see some flashbacks that led these two men to their current path in life (many of these are funny), and the chemistry that eventually builds between the two is real.  We're not just enjoying watching these actors share the screen, but we eventually grow to like the two characters being together.  The movie perfectly captures the silly and hyper violent tone that a film such as this requires in order to be successful, and the actors know how to carry it.

If this movie often feels like a relic from another decade, I think it's intentional.  The fact that the soundtrack features quite a few pop hits from the 80s is also probably not a mistake.  Does this mean that The Hitman's Bodyguard will probably play better with older viewers than younger audiences?  Probably, and there's nothing wrong with that.  As someone who grew up watching these kind of movies on HBO, I had a good time with this, and the presence of Reynolds and Jackson only sweetens the experience in my opinion.

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