Movie Review: The Hitman's Bodyguard

A potentially clever idea collapsed under the weight of all the bombs and bullets

The Hitman's Bodyguard
(Zabiják & bodyguard)
Directed by Patrick Hughes
With Ryan Reynolds, Samuel L. Jackson, Gary Oldman, Salma Hayek, Élodie Yung, Joaquim de Almeida

Putting two wisecracking enemies together and forcing them to be on the same side can be a solid formula for an action comedy. The comedy works to a certain extent in The Hitman's Bodyguard, but the action plot is too derivative and, in the end, just too senselessly violent.

The plot has Eastern Europe as “over there, someplace.” Gary Oldman plays brutal Belarusian dictator Vladislav Dukhovich, on trial in The Hague for war crimes. There has not been a recent war in Belarus.

For reasons that exist only to make the plot work, the only person who can offer evidence to convict the deposed dictator is an incarcerated hitman, Darius Kincaid (played by Samuel L. Jackson).

But getting him from England, where he is imprisoned, to The Hague, where the trial is, proves to be very difficult. This is where the bodyguard, Michael Bryce (Ryan Reynolds), comes in.

Why they simply don't do a video link from the prison to the courtroom is never explained.

Once the plot gets going, with Kincaid and Bryce forced to work together, the film falls into an endlessly increasing body count where automatic weapons fire nonstop but virtually no innocent people get hit.

In between the shootings, Kincaid and Bryce argue over their past interactions, and Kincaid tries to give Bryce romantic advice on how to get back together with his ex-girlfriend, Interpol agent Amelia Roussel (Élodie Yung), who is also mixed up in the plot.

The two lead actors are good at comic banter, with Samuel L. Jackson giving the movie some of its best moments. Ryan Reynolds is more of a straight man, but holds his own with the comedy and also manages to passably handle the fighting scenes.

Salma Hayek turns up eventually and helps to boost the humor as Kincaid's tough talking wife.

A couple of the individual scenes stand out, but overall there is not enough originality in the humor or the action. A running gag is that Bryce wants to get back his triple-A rating as a bodyguard, but the script milks it way to often.

But the action by the end just becomes numbing. The amount of thugs that Dukhovich, who is no longer in power, still has at his disposal is truly mind boggling. No sooner do the heroes get away from one cluster of gunman, than there is another group down the street, and then another.

Action takes place in three cities in two countries, and there are seeming Belarusian armies in all of them. Some of the action is close to recent real-life terrorist incidents, and they make for awkward scenes in a comedy.

The war-crimes plot is also a bit troubling, especially for people who live in Central and Eastern Europe. Dukhovich's face is scarred by dioxin poisoning, which happened in real life to Ukrainian opposition leader and later president Viktor Yushchenko, who is generally regarded positively. Some of the accusations against Dukhovich seem to be based on the trials concerning former Yugoslavia. Prague is even mentioned and shown very briefly as site of a high-profile assassination. It is as if random decade-old headlines from the CEE region were thrown in a blender.

Gary Oldman, who plays the dictator, gives one of his worst performances, never rising above a B-movie caricature of a generic bad guy with a bad accent.

Central America doesn't escape the geographic simplicities, with Honduras popping up as a virtually lawless zone of biker bars.

The way the war-crimes court in The Hague is depicted is a bit problematic, as it seems to have completely arbitrary deadlines and very unclear rules of evidence. It makes international justice seem like a joke.

The depiction of Belarus is also rather off the mark. The government of Belarus in real life has been accused of undemocratic elections and human rights abuses against the opposition, but nothing close to the scale of what is depicted in the film.

As a late summer action film, The Hitman's Bodyguard offers shootings, explosions and a few laughs. But the same cast in the same locations should have been capable of something a lot more original and nuanced.

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