It can be very freeing to walk into a movie with low expectations: either the movie is bad (and you’re right) or it’s good (and you get to watch a good movie). “The Hitman’s Bodyguard” invites low expectations. The previews make it look full of slapstick humor without an actual heart to anchor it. Thankfully, the previews are wrong. This is not a perfect film, but it’s mostly a very enjoyable one.
Our titular protagonists are Michael Bryce (Ryan Reynolds) and Darius Kincaid (Samuel L. Jackson), a bodyguard and hitman respectively. Bryce has fallen on hard times after losing a client, and is offered a chance to get his reputation back if he escorts Kincaid to the Hague to testify against a villainous Eastern bloc dictator (Gary Oldman). The thing is, Bryce and Kincaid are from opposite sides of the crime world: Bryce gets hired to keep potential targets safe, while Kincaid gets hired to assassinate them.
Of such unlikely duos are many buddy flicks made, and “The Hitman’s Bodyguard” leans heavily on familiar tropes. There’s lots of angry crosstalk amidst the chases, shootouts, and other thriller elements. A lot of the humor is based around how different Bryce and Kincaid are. It’s a familiar setup, and it works pretty well.
Two things make this film come together into something worth watching: Ryan Reynolds is a gifted comedian cast here as the straight man (Bryce is good at what he does because he’s a rule-obeying perfectionist), and Samuel L. Jackson has more than enough chops to be both hilarious and scary as the force of nature, the maestro of improvised violence and flexible plans that Kincaid is.
Unlike a lot of action movies these days, “The Hitman’s Bodyguard” is very definitely R-rated. You can’t have Samuel L. Jackson in a movie without him using that familiar MF cussword a whole lot, and the violence is both visually and audibly gory. The hand-to-hand combat, shootouts, and everything else are well-choreographed but sometimes too chaotic to follow well. If you’re sensitive to hand-held camera work, maybe take a Dramamine before you hit the theater.
The supporting characters are all solid. Gary Oldman puts his grizzled demeanor and his best Eastern-European accent to good use as the main villain. Elodie Yung (recognizable to Marvel fans from playing Elektra Natchios in the Marvel’s Netflix shows) is convincing as a tiny-but-effective Interpol agent – Yung has solid action skills and holds her own against the scenery chewing of our protagonists.
Where the film fails is in its lighter moments: it’s jarring to watch fat jokes (the refuge of the lazy writer) and goofy slapstick comedy in between action scenes with bones crunching and blood flying. It’s extra weird when the rest of the film’s comedy is character-based and pretty solid. The trailers lean heavily on this material, but it’s not as big a part of the film as they seem to indicate. Still, it might be too much for some viewers, especially since the rest of the film is solid but not great.
If you’re in the mood for a violent action movie and like buddy action-comedies, “The Hitman’s Bodyguard” will probably hit the spot. There isn’t a ton of juvenile material present, but there’s enough that if you find it offputting, you should probably stay home.