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MOVIE REVIEW: 'The Hitman’s Bodyguard' offers international escape from reality of August

By Philip Martin

This article was published August 18, 2017 at 4:30 a.m.

michael-bryce-ryan-reynolds-and-darius-kincaid-samuel-l-jackson-in-the-hitmans-bodyguard

Michael Bryce (Ryan Reynolds) and Darius Kincaid (Samuel L. Jackson) in The Hitman’s Bodyguard.

The Hitman’s Bodyguard

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Cast: Ryan Reynolds, Samuel L. Jackson, Gary Oldman, Salma Hayek, Elodie Yung, Joaquim De Almeida, Kirsty Mitchell, Richard E. Grant

Director: Patrick Hughes

Rating: R, for strong violence and language throughout

Running time: 1 hour, 58 minutes

Gary Oldman as Vladislav Dukhovich

Elodie Yung as Amelia Roussel in The Hitman’s Bodyguard.

Salma Hayek and Samuel L. Jackson

Maybe you need a dose of unreality.

If so, there's nothing remotely plausible or naturalistic about The Hitman's Bodyguard. It's a bloody, goofy movie that plays like a parody of an '80s buddy action movie -- it's like Lethal Weapon or 48 Hours on human growth hormone, minus the actorly bits. It gives us Samuel L. Jackson playing an oversized, shorthand version of his familiar screen persona and Ryan Reynolds as his foil, a high-dollar security professional who's a kind of ethnically Canadian James Bond. (Ten percent less exotic than Pierce Brosnan with an infusion of kittenish cuteness!)

London-based Michael Bryce (Reynolds) is Felix Unger fastidious, a careful man in a dangerous profession who had never lost a client until someone pulled off a lucky shot and nailed a Japanese arms dealer Bryce was contracted to protect. This blip cost Bryce his "triple-A" rating, his Jaguar and his sleek Black Mirror-worthy residence in the English countryside. It also cost him his girlfriend, Interpol agent Amelia Roussel (Elodie Yung).

Bryce suspected Amelia leaked some information about his client, and to be fair, Interpol as depicted here is a pretty loose shop. Amelia is now charged with transporting notorious international hit man Darius Kincaid (Jackson) to The Hague so that he can testify in the war crimes trial of brutal Belarusian strongman Vladislav Dukhovich (who else but Gary Oldman?). For some reason, there's a hard deadline on the trial -- Kincaid has to appear in court within 48 hours or else Dukhovich goes free.

Since it's about a six-hour drive from London to The Hague via the Channel Tunnel (or about a half hour by air) you'd think it'd be no problem to get the witness to the dock on time. But Dukhovich has a mole inside Interpol (no spoiler here, but the rat's identity is revealed early on) and a virtual army of mercenaries with seemingly limitless resources on the ground. So it's only luck and Kincaid's lethal resourcefulness that allows them to escape an ambush.

Holed up in a safe house, unsure of who to trust, Amelia calls on her ex-lover -- who, the face of his cherished Patek Phillippe cracked, is reduced to baby-sitting coked-up shysters (Richard E. Grant makes a brief but very funny appearance).

After the usual bitter ex-lovers' banter, Bryce agrees to help, only to discover that the man she wants him to protect is his bitterest enemy. Kincaid has attempted to kill Bryce at least 28 times -- or maybe he's attempted to kill Bryce's clients 28 times. (Which means that while Kincaid may have dispatched 250 or so targets, he's not perfect.)

After the predictable getting-to-know-you squabble, Bryce sets off with a handcuffed Kincaid on a circuitous lap around England for the purpose of evading the bad guys who seem to know their every move. Inevitably things get so desperate that Kincaid picks up a weapon and the two make common cause, spilling blood and crashing vehicles along the way.

When they get to Amsterdam, we learn that Bryce -- who we thought was reduced to living in his car -- maintains a rather well-equipped apartment there. And we get to see a lot of that enchanting city's canals and the Rijksmuseum playing an Interpol prison.

There's a lot of fun to be had if you don't think too hard about things. About the only ethical question it ponders is whether it's worse to kill evil folks or to protect them. (Substitute Jackson's favorite compound noun for "folks" and you'll get the flavor of the argument.) Director Patrick Hughes doesn't attempt anything too audacious, banking on the considerable talents of the cast to elicit empathy. Reynolds and Jackson settle into a pleasant pocket with their bickering, and if they never reach the heights achieved by Robert De Niro and Charles Grodin in 1988's Midnight Run, every once in a while their repartee approaches genuine wittiness.

The violence is all loud and painless in the modern way, more likely to exhaust than upset. And while a pair of romantic subplots feel a little pasted on, one of them is redeemed by Salma Hayek's marvelously profane turn.

There aren't many surprises other than, considering that Tom O'Connor's script was among the top 2011 Black List of unproduced screenplays, the writing is a little pedestrian. The Hitman's Bodyguard is a very good example of a certain kind of overt Hollywood project that reassures the audience with its familiarity. We know the beats the characters will hit, and there's something satisfying when they hit them.

In another time this would pass as an enjoyable B-movie, a low-pressure programmer that asks little of its audience other than a couple of hours of their summertime leisure. It's less complicated and dark than a Shane Black buddy comedy, the computer-assisted graphics are a little obvious and overdone, and the whole enterprise feels juvenile when compared to last month's Atomic Blonde (which also put an '80s pop soundtrack to better use).

But what do you want in a mid-August actioner? The Hitman's Bodyguard succeeds as a travelogue, a European getaway fantasy in the middle of the dog days.

MovieStyle on 08/18/2017

Print Headline: Action distraction

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