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For years, Hollywood has mined the concept of "we're not so different, you and I," and developed that idea into a storytelling science. The buddy movie genre is the distillation of that idea into its purest form, and we have seen instant classics like Lethal Weapon, 48 hrs., and Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang debut on the big screen as a result. Patrick Hughes' The Hitman's Bodyguard is Hollywood's latest attempt to tinker with that tried-and-true action-comedy formula, and while Ryan Reynolds and Samuel L. Jackson deliver a few laughs and thrills along the way, it's ultimately not enough to save this strikingly dull and tonally inconsistent romp.
What happens when you force one of the world's greatest hitmen and one of the world's most elite bodyguards to work together? That's the core thesis of The Hitman's Bodyguard, as the film sees talented (yet disgraced) personal protection agent Michael Bryce (Ryan Reynolds) enlisted to watch over notorious assassin Darius Kincaid (Samuel L. Jackson) by Interpol agent/ex Amelia Roussel (Elodie Yung). The reason Kincaid needs protection? He has offered to testify against Eastern European war criminal Vladislav Dukhovich (Gary Oldman) in exchange for the release of his beloved wife, Sonia (Salma Hayek).
In a certain sense, The Hitman's Bodyguard feels like a movie that was wished for on a monkey's paw by someone with a severe case of franchise burnout. It's not based on any pre-existing source material (aside from clear Midnight Run-esque premise), and it's actually great to see an original film get made in the summer that has been mostly defined by franchises, sequels, prequels, and reboots. Beyond that, the core concept of the movie actually holds quite a bit of promise. An elite killer and an expert bodyguard forced to work together? It makes perfect sense.
However, the praise for the film's originality can only go so far because it still embraces every action movie cliché in the book. This is a film drenched in convention, and if you have seen any action-comedy produced within the last 30 years, then you can likely call every major story beat from a mile out. In fact, the movie bends over backward to adhere to these conventions, defying the inherent logic of its situation and forcing Elodie Yung into the background to give the two headliners more screen time -- even though there's no reason for her to not be along for the ride.
Another decidedly weird aspect of The Hitman's Bodyguard is the way in which none of the characters appear to be on the same page with regards to the type of movie they are in. Ryan Reynolds plays Michael Bryce relatively straight, with a few flashes of comedy a la Riggs and/or Murtaugh in Lethal Weapon, while Samuel L. Jackson goes for full-blown comedy as Darius Kincaid. A proper buddy movie dynamic obviously needs this juxtaposition of diametrically opposed personalities to work, but the issue isn't necessarily that Bryce and Kincaid's personalities are incompatible -- because they really aren't concerning how they see the world. The problem lies in the fact that each character feels like he is trying to take this movie in a wildly different genre direction.
Then there's Gary Oldman, who delivers an oddly incredible performance as European dictator Vladislav Dukhovich, but seems to have no idea as to the movie he is actually in. Unlike the rest of the film's characters, Dukhovich pretty much plays entirely straight, and his checkered history of murder, atrocities, and war crimes sometimes takes The Hitman's Bodyguard to a level of darkness that the comedy can't recover from in the long run. One minute the film offers audiences brutal violence of a Michael Mann crime-thriller, and in the very next scene it aims for Austin Powers-level goofiness as Salma Hayek slaughters drunk bar patrons in a sort of slow motion murder ballet. These disparate tones seldom mesh into one cohesive unit, and the viewer is left with a film that simply doesn't know what it wants to be.
In all fairness, there are certainly moments in The Hitman's Bodyguard that stand out and are worth your time. Ryan Reynolds delivers solid laughs when the film allows him to break from the straight-man persona of Michael Bryce (specifically during one scene at a bar in Amsterdam), and some of the film's more imaginative action sequences deliver great thrills. In particular, watch out for a foot chase during the movie's third act that culminates in a tool shop fight. Stitched together to create the sense of a single take, the brawl is actually one of the better action sequences in recent memory to not involve superheroes.
Come to think of it, most of the best moments in The Hitman's Bodyguard come during its third act, and that actually raises the distinct question of whether or not this movie needs a sequel in order to reach its full potential. Although this particular installment doesn't necessarily hit all of the essential storytelling beats in its first outing, it lays quite a bit of groundwork and sets up relationships that could potentially be mined for better comedic and dramatic effect in The Hitman's Bodyguard 2. The buddy movie genre has evolved since guys like Riggs and Murtaugh first burst onto the scene, and if these characters want to survive, they will need to as well.
On paper, this film has everything that it needs to work. With charming leads and solid action, The Hitman's Bodyguard should be a win. Alas, the film squanders its best ideas with an abundance of clichés and lackluster execution. This has been a great summer for inventive and progressive action movies, but The Hitman's Bodyguard simply embraces the familiar far too much to receive the same credit.