August used to be the dog days of the Summer movie season. After the splash of May and the popcorn parade of June and July, the final month before kids go back to school was reserved for the also-rans, the dregs, and the contractually obligated. Then hits like Guardians of the Galaxy and Suicide Squad suggested that audiences could handle solid sleeper blockbuster.
You can tell someone thought The Hitman’s Bodyguard might be that last gasp grasp at box office glory. After all, it has two of the more likable actors working today (Ryan Reynolds, Samuel L. Jackson), a goofy, high concept premise (a buddy action comedy where an assassin is paired with a security expert for protection) and very little competition at the Cineplex (cough…cough…Logan Lucky…cough).
But thanks to a sloppy script and a legitimate lack of laughs, what could have been great is simply grating, more than two hours of tedium balled up into a failed attempt at frantic funny business. The storyline sees disgraced executive protection agent Michael Bryce (Reynolds) coming to the rescue of his ex-girlfriend, Interpol agent Amelia Roussel (Elodie Yung) when her mission to bring notorious hitman Darius Kincaid (Jackson) to court to testify is thwarted.
You see, Kincaid’s wife (Selma Hayek) is in custody, and in exchange for his testimony against the bloodthirsty dictator of Belarus, Vladislav Dukhovich, (Gary Oldman), she will be set free. On the way to the Hague, Roussel and Kincaid are ambushed, and escape to a safe house. She contacts her ex to help, and soon our mismatched pair of gun-toting professionals are at each other’s throats while avoiding Dukhovich’s own parade of killers, and a mole inside Interpol who may be selling out Roussel and Kincaid for their own nefarious reasons.
The Hitman’s Bodyguard is one of those notorious “Black List” scripts that get passed around Hollywood every year, a compendium of un-produced screenplays that have insiders marveling and simultaneously wondering why they haven’t been picked up and made yet. The problem here is pretty obvious. What works on the page, or in the mind of the author, clearly can’t translate to screen. You could make up better banter between Reynolds and Jackson in your head, the duo determined to breathe life into the DOA words in Tom O’Connor’s dialogue. Jokes fall flat and character is defined by big broad strokes.
The actors are game enough. Oldman is basically stuck for most of the movie in a single room, chewing up the scenery, but no one is a better moment muncher than the accomplished British thespian. Hayek is also having a good time playing both sides of the fence, finding nuance where none exists. But the biggest problem is turning Reynolds into a stodgy straight man. He’s better was the smart aleck, the know it all with little brains to back up his pronouncements. He has good chemistry with Jackson, but the duo are not dynamic. They’re dull.
Director Patrick Hughes, who earned his action stripes leading Sylvester Stallone and the rest of those over the hill ’80s icons through the third (and least effective) Expendables movie, can helm a decent car chase. He doesn’t completely dissolve into incomprehensible editing and jump cut nonsense, but the tone is all wrong. This is a buddy comedy, supposedly. Hughes treats the chaos with almost deadly seriousness. We don’t find it fun, and it never meshes with the implied levity of the people stuff. In fact, that’s a good way to sum up The Hitman’s Bodyguard. It’s a bunch of dispirit concepts, some good, some not, that never come together as a satisfying whole. In other words, a perfect part of the August cinematic dog day blahs.