Tuesday, August 22, 2017

In Theaters: THE HITMAN'S BODYGUARD (2017)

(US/China - 2017)

Directed by Patrick Hughes. Written by Tom O'Connor. Cast: Ryan Reynolds, Samuel L. Jackson, Gary Oldman, Salma Hayek, Elodie Yung, Joaquim de Almeida, Richard E. Grant, Kirsty Mitchell, Sam Hazeldine, Rod Hallett, Yuri Kolokolnikov, Tine Joustra, Michael Gor, Barry Atsma, Tsuwayuke Saotome, Josephine De La Baume. (R, 118 mins)

THE HITMAN'S BODYGUARD tries to be a throwback to the ballbusting buddy/cop/action movies of the '80s, and its attempts to be 2017's answer to 48 HRS or MIDNIGHT RUN succeeds about 60% of the time. It's a film that gets by almost solely by riffing on the onscreen personas of its two stars, working from a script by Tom O'Connor (whose only previous writing credit is 2012's instantly forgotten Josh Duhamel/Bruce Willis VOD actioner FIRE WITH FIRE) that was floating around Hollywood for several years. That script has obviously been given some extensive polishing to refashion it for both a post-DEADPOOL Ryan Reynolds and the venerable Samuel L. Jackson, cast radically against type as motherfuckin' Samuel L. Jackson. The two stars aren't quite Nick Nolte & Eddie Murphy or Robert De Niro & Charles Grodin, but they might've been if in better hands. Despite A-list actors and location shooting all over Europe, this is still a Millennium/NuImage production, which means most of the money went to the cast and you're gonna get that same backlot at Avi Lerner's Nu Boyana Studios in Bulgaria that's been in countless DTV efforts by the Cannon cover band over the years, and that the Bulgarian clown crew at Worldwide FX will do their part by delivering the least convincing CGI explosions and greenscreen work that Lerner and 31 other credited producers can look at and shrug "Eh, fuck it...it's good enough." Many of the exterior shots that aren't marred by atrocious greenscreen are drenched in a gauzy, smudgy Barbara Walters lens filter. Lerner got a pair of box-office draws with Reynolds and Jackson, but from a filmmaking standpoint, he still approached THE HITMAN'S BODYGUARD as if it starred Scott Adkins and Michael Jai White being directed by Isaac Florentine (why isn't he directing this, by the way?). The film does the bare minimum to get by, and it's damn lucky that it's got Reynolds and Jackson to move it along, because without them, this would've gone straight to Redbox.

Still haunted by a botched job where a client was shot in the head on his watch, AAA-rated security contractor Michael Bryce (Reynolds) has hit bottom. He now takes easy gigs guarding London's low-level drug smugglers and assorted corporate scumbags, his car still smells like ass weeks after pellets of cocaine exploded in a client's rectum, and he's still pining for his French Interpol agent ex Amelia Roussel (Elodie Yung). Amelia has just been assigned to lead the security detail taking incarcerated assassin Darius Kincaid (Jackson) from London to the International Court at the Hague, where he's set to testify against genocidal former Belarus dictator Vlasislav Dukhovich (Gary Oldman), who hired Kincaid for some past jobs. Of course, Amelia's boss Jean Foucher (Joaquim de Almeida) is a mole secretly on Dukhovich's payroll--a non-spoiler that's obvious the moment you see the character is played by Joaquim de Almeida--and the dictator's minions ambush the transport convoy, killing everyone but Kincaid and Amelia. With no other options and with Kincaid needing to be in The Hague in 24 hours, Amelia heads to a safe house and calls Bryce, who knows Kincaid from the assassin's 28 attempts on his life while in the line of duty protecting a client. Of course, they're now on the run throughout Europe, with Dukhovich's goons in hot pursuit trying to eliminate the bickering bromancers, who now have to set aside their differences and work together to get to The Hague...if they don't kill each other first!

THE HITMAN'S BODYGUARD is so beholden to formula that at one point, Amelia actually tells the prosecutor "The only way Bryce and Kincaid don't make it is if they kill each other first." There's no shortage of car chases and shootouts and director Patrick Hughes (the lackluster THE EXPENDABLES 3) keeps things moving briskly even if the film is 20 minutes too long. Oldman is criminally underused as the villain and Salma Hayek has even less to do as Kincaid's equally foul-mouthed wife, who's in a Dutch prison and will be released if Kincaid testifies. You can definitely see the DEADPOOL influence in the incongruous use of '80s and '90s songs, like Lionel Richie's "Hello" during a flashback to a violent bar brawl where Kincaid met his wife, or another flashback to Bryce and Amelia's meet-cute at a funeral shootout set to Foreigner's "I Want to Know What Love Is." Or Bryce drowning out Kincaid's blues singing with his own a cappella take on Ace of Base's "The Sign." Like DEADPOOL, there's no joke there other than "Hey, these were huge hit singles 25 or 30 years ago, so just recognizing them should be instantly hysterical." But Reynolds and Jackson (who's really having a blast here) are a terrific team and when they're busting chops and working off one another, THE HITMAN'S BODYGUARD really comes alive with more than its share of quotable dialogue ("This man has single-handedly ruined the word 'motherfucker'") and laugh-out-loud gags (a car chase montage coming to abrupt halt in seconds thanks to the airbags). In the hands of someone like Shane Black, THE HITMAN'S BODYGUARD could've been right up there with a next generation mismatched buddy/cop classic like KISS KISS BANG BANG. Obviously constrained by what he's been given to work with by his producers, Hughes resorts to quick-cut, shaky-cam action scenes and his attempt to pull off the illusion of a long, single-take fight scene is exposed by the first of several obvious cuts about four seconds into the sequence. This is an ugly cheap-looking film in need of some serious quality control on the tech side, but that doesn't mean it's not entertaining. It's a must-see for Reynolds and Jackson fans, and it'll be in constant rotation on cable and streaming until the end of time, but the presence of those two big names are probably the exact reason the producers were totally cool with cutting corners everywhere else.

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