The new action comedy The Hitman’s Bodyguard aims to be a throwback to the buddy cop films that were written by Shane Black in the late ‘80s and ‘90s. Pairing Ryan Reynolds and Samuel L. Jackson, The Hitman’s Bodyguard mostly achieves its goals. It’s a funny and violent movie that isn’t always as witty as it hopes to be but works because of the chemistry between its two leads and willingness to push the action to its limits.
When we first see Michael Bryce (Reynolds), he’s on top of the world. He’s a bodyguard for the financial elite, offering AAA protection for his clients which affords him a life of luxury with fancy suits and sleek cars. His whole world comes crashing down when a valued client is assassinated on his watch, the fallout of which destroys his business and ruins his relationship with Interpol agent Amelia Ryder (Elodie Yung). Two years later, Michael is stuck protecting drugged out lawyers and other lower level clients.
Elsewhere, Vladislav Dukhovich (Gary Oldman), the ousted dictator of Belarus, is about to face a war crimes tribunal at The Hague in Holland, but the efforts to convict the genocidal leader are failing in court. The only hope for a conviction is the testimony of Darius Kincaid (Jackson), a convicted hitman who agrees to testify in order to free his wife Sonia (Salma Hayek) from prison. When the transport taking Darius from London to Holland is attacked, Amelia has no other choice but to call Michael so he can take the convicted killer to his appointed court date. Except these two have a complicated history of trying to kill one another and it’s going to be bumpy ride to The Hague.
The Hitman’s Bodyguard sticks to its buddy cop formula with its two bickering leads with conflicting styles that eventually meld together in the end. The fact that the script by Tom O’Connor doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel works in the film’s favor. Ryan Reynolds’ arrogant persona works best in these types of movie when his character is down and out, making the bluster provide a fascinating counterpoint to his actual position in life. The clash between Reynolds’ meticulously planning Michael and Jackson’s improvising Darius works well as a dynamic between the two, and it’s obvious that Samuel L. Jackson is just having a blast with the material. Jackson brings a larger than life energy to his lethal hitman and steals every scene away from a game Reynolds. There are some late twists in the relationship between these characters that aren’t quite as surprising as intended but neither detract from the dynamic between these two leads.
Director Patrick Hughes has made incredible leaps as an action filmmaker since his last feature, The Expendables 3. The shootouts, fights, and car chases are presented with a visual clarity that wasn’t present in his prior film. In the film’s final act, Hughes throws everything he can at the screen in an action-packed finale. A thrilling sequence through Amsterdam is the best moment of the movie, with Jackson’s Darius navigating the canals of the city in a speedboat while Reynolds zooms along in a motorcycle providing backup. The film does run about 15 minutes too long after the conclusion of this great action sequence. The violent mayhem that’s undercut with some witty banter builds enough goodwill that as it runs too long you’re willing to forgive it because you like these two gun fighters.
The Hitman’s Bodyguard works because it knows exactly what it’s aiming for – a violent blend of action and comedy. This isn’t a particularly original work of cinema but the duo front and center carry the tradition of the buddy action flick across the finish line with a number of laughs and thrilling action scenes along the way. Action fans looking for something that in the way of The Long Kiss Goodnight or The Last Boy Scout, though not quite as witty, will be pleased with The Hitman’s Bodyguard and its dedication to blending humor and action in what is obviously a film influenced heavily by Shane Black. It’s not quite the masterful work of Black’s best, but its’ a lot of fun for what it is.