‘The Hitman’s Bodyguard’ is messy, gimmicky misfire

Ryan Reynolds, protecting Samuel Jackson, crawl away from a burning car.
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"Hitman's Bodyguard" | Lionsgate

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Grade: 1.5 / 5.0

“The Hitman’s Bodyguard” set itself up to be a brilliant comedy blockbuster. With Samuel L. Jackson and Ryan Reynolds, what could go wrong? The answer is a lot of things.

The film begins with some pretty suave intercuts, but that cool energy quickly turns to generic shtick (and later, a scene with some poorly-rendered greenscreen action).

As you might have guessed, Samuel L. Jackson and Ryan Reynolds star as Darius Kincaid, a hitman, and Michael Bryce, his bodyguard. The premise sounds like a hit, but in practice, it’s a misfire. Darius has been asked to testify against an Eastern European tyrannical, homicidal dictator — but in order to do so, he must be transported from a prison in England to an International Court of Justice. The transport goes horribly wrong and, surprising no one, Darius escapes.

Desperate to keep Darius alive, Agent Amelia Roussel (Elodie Yung) calls her asshole ex-boyfriend Michael Bryce, a bodyguard, to protect him. From there, carnage ensues, as Darius and Michael evade the hitmen out to kill Darius before his testimony — the pair spat, shoot and discuss “what women want.” But if Amelia hadn’t called Michael for help, he wouldn’t have been necessary to the story at all — she and Darius could have made it to the court all on their own.

This summer has already seen one self-parodied comedy with “Baywatch.” Self-parody can totally work if it offers something original (i.e. not too many jokes about butts, dicks or farts — that should be a given). Otherwise, it hits the nail on the head so hard that it leaves a painful ringing in your ear with every quip.

What’s most disappointing about this film is that it could have been hilariously funny — fall-out-of-your-chair, spit-out-your-popcorn-and-soda funny. We know this, because Ryan Reynolds had us keeling over with laughter in “Deadpool,” and Samuel L. Jackson has been delivering hilarious one-liners since before “Pulp Fiction.”

But “The Hitman’s Bodyguard” aims to hit the targets these actors have already nailed in other films. Thus, the physical comedy and more-than-slightly gimmicky punchlines end up feeling redundant, eyeroll-worthy and even lazy. At one point, Michael says that Darius Kincaid has single-handedly “ruined the word motherfucker” — of course he has, he’s played by Samuel L. Jackson. It was too obvious, and that’s about as funny as the film gets.

That’s not the only part of this film that’s all over the place. The soundtrack, which goes from typical action tunes and dramatic Bond-esque ballads to scream-o rock and pseudo-jazzy numbers, is objectively a mess. At first the music seems obvious in a way that’s self-reflexive and even funny — but alas, like many aspects of this film, it later becomes confusing and absurd.

And then there’s the issue of Reynold’s character altogether. The movie basically hits us over the head with the fact that we’re supposed to be rooting for both Darius and Michael — despite the fact that Darius is a hitman and Michael is both stubborn and materialistic. Darius is still charming, with his sunshiney laugh and ability to survive the impossible.

Meanwhile, Michael is just annoying. And he’s made more annoying by the romantic plot of his story that was totally unnecessary and not at all believable. That’s not to say that a romantic plot can’t add another silly layer to a comedy — Darius and Sonia’s relationship proves that it totally can — but no one would believe that Amelia would even entertain a relationship with a man as belittling as Michael.

Then again, no one would believe that someone as competent as Amelia would need someone as incompetent as Michael to “save” her from a chokehold — except, apparently, the writers of “The Hitman’s Bodyguard.” Amelia’s a trained agent who could have easily escaped the grasp of a smarmy paper-pusher who sympathizes with a genocidal maniac.

That’s just one strange thread of Michael’s strange heroism. Any attempt to satirize Michael’s savior complex was lost in the fact that the film subliminally validates him by making his presence integral to Darius’ survival — as if Darius hadn’t made it sixty-some years without a bodyguard at all. Like much of the film’s superfluous plotlines, it doesn’t make any sense.

“The Hitman’s Bodyguard” would have been better off with a clever-but-simple plotline that was smart, self-aware and original, rather than a lazy rehash of old jokes mediated by a throw-away romance in an action-comedy. Action comedies aren’t meant to be believable, but if they’re going to play with ridiculousness, let it be in action scenes and jest (or even next-level puns). If the film had pulled from innovation and physical humor — rather than relied on the pre-established funniness of its actors — it would have hit its mark right on target.

Contact Sophie-Marie Prime at [email protected].