Director: Patrick Hughes
Screenplay: Tom O'Connor
Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Samuel L. Jackson, Gary Oldman, Salma Hayek, Élodie Yung
Runtime: 118 Minutes
The Hitman’s Bodyguard’s production history says a lot about its final state. Written by Tom O'Connor and intended as a drama, the film underwent a furiously fast rewrite to be repositioned as an action comedy before the cameras started rolling apparently when stars Ryan Reynolds and Samuel L. Jackson had already signed on. The comedy as it comes plays to their exact traits as performers, with Reynolds’ quick-fire backtalk and deadpan delivery contrasted with Jackson’s continued screaming of the word “motherfucker” – which it is sad to discover actually has a limit to the number of times it can actually be funny over its nearly two-hour runtime.
The odd couple comedy acts around the framework of a highly clichéd and overly complicated yet desperately boring plot involving Reynolds’ protection agent, Michael Bryce, delivering Jackson’s hitman, Darius Kincaid, to testify at the trial of a notorious Belarusian dictator (Gary Oldman). It's mostly just boring and never dramatically involving, though the competency of Patrick Hughes’ direction in the action sequences keeps it watchable if never really engaging. The whole production appears to have been put together on the cheap with its biggest paychecks to the names involved as the lighting choices, closed sets and digital photography especially makes the spectacle seem faker or unintentionally silly.
It never really plays up to its potential though with the pairing as it feels there’s a missing component on a character level – or the recasting of Reynolds for someone younger – that might have added some starker contrast to the tidy tech-savvy planner and the messy old-school badass. That being said both actors play up to type admirably, and while long stretches go without enough jokes and too much backstory there’s occasionally a well-timed moment of levity at the expense of either the genre or their onscreen personas bounding off one another.
The scene stealer turns out to be Salma Hayek as Kincaid’s imprisoned wife, who plays everything so loud and fantastically foul-mouthed that she’s a bizarre joy in the few scenes that she's in. Oldman stares with disinterest in most of his scenes as a flat and joyless antagonist, while Daredevil’s Élodie Yung gives as blank and empty a performance as she’s ever given.
The Hitman’s Bodyguard feels like a missed opportunity to play up to the one-joke premise teased in the early marketing material; that being a comedic roast of 1992’s The Bodyguard but with two of the biggest stars on the planet playing it for homoerotic laughs. It might not be fair to hold that against the film, but it’s probably a stronger approach than the film we’ve been dealt.