A funny thing happened on the way to the court room. “My job is to keep you out of harm’s way,” states special protection agent Michael Bryce (Ryan Reynolds) to the man he’s meant to protect. “I am harm’s way,” responds the client, hitman, Darius Kincaid (Samuel L. Jackson). It’s the best line in the film.
In the new action comedy from director Patrick Hughes, The Hitman’s Bodyguard, one of the world’s most notorious hitmen needs protection. Darious Kincaid is about to testify at the International Court of Justice in The Hague, The Netherlands. There’s a murderous Eastern European dictator (Gary Oldman) standing trial, and it will be Kincaid’s revealing testimony that should put him away. But it all depends on two things.
As long as there’s a pardon granted to Kincaid’s imprisoned wife, Sonia (Salma Hayek, in full, jaw-dropping, foul-mouthed glory) he’ll testify. But if he testifies, there’s another problem. Any witness who attempts to take the stand against the dictator somehow disappears or winds up dead before getting to the Dutch courts. Plus, there’s a time limit. Kincaid needs to get to The Hague before 5pm the next day or it’s case dismissed, and he’s still across the North Sea in London.
Knowing that not even the protection of Interpol agents will be enough, the authorities bring in professional aid; a triple-A rated executive protection agent. But that presents another problem; Agent Bryce and hitman Kincaid have history, and it’s not good. They hate each other, exacerbated by the fact that Kincaid tried to kill Bryce at least 28 times over the course of their professional relationship. “You’re about as useful as a condom in a convent,” declares Kincaid to Bryce.
The Hitman’s Bodyguard is really two films. The action comedy has action, then there’s the comedy, and then there’s the visible join. Writer Tom O’Connor’s script was originally a drama. But then the studios insisted on an emergency rewrite before filming. They wanted a comedy, like a buddy road movie where the two men making the journey hate each other, constantly squabble, throw insults, then by journey’s end develop a little respect, all while dodging bullets, cars, and explosives along the way. What was described as a “frantic” two-week rewrite turned a drama into a comedic bickering session punctuated with explosive action. But here it’s oil and water; they just don’t mix.
The comedy is more a series of aggressive insults where the majority of the punch-lines are delivered by Jackson as an f-bomb retort. Admittedly, Jackson’s voice and his in-your-face style has made an art out of making obscenities sound funny – the line doesn’t need wit, it just needs another mother-effer from Jackson and you’ll laugh – but there are no funny characters in The Hitman’s Bodyguard, nor any genuine funny lines, just Jackson at his most colorfully verbose, and Ryan playing the put-upon, frustrated, straight man trying to hold it together while hell breaks lose around him.
Director Hughes attempts to soften the line between the two styles by his use of music. When running through the streets of Holland that will eventually go from inside of stores, to motorbikes racing across the city’s bridges, to speed boats racing under them, all while dodging bazooka fire, the accompanying music is Spiderbait’s Black Betty which at the fade becomes Chuck Berry’s Little Queenie. When Jackson tells of how he met his wife, Sonia, as she crushed bones in a bar, smashed beer bottles and severed arteries with the glass, Lionel Richie’s melancholy Hello runs underneath. “It was the most amazing display of violence,” Kincaid declares, full of love and admiration for the psychopath he’ll soon be marrying. For Jackson’s character, it was love at first sight.
The action, the shoot-outs, the stunts and the non-stop, everlasting chases are certainly well-staged and executed, but they’re also excessively violent, way over-the-top, and way too long. Just when you think the film is practically over following another massively staged, violent chase through Holland, one that crushes boats, cars, has locals diving for cover, and sends bad guys’ bodies flying through the air, the film brings on yet one more that in sheer size tries to outdo every explosive stunt you’ve already seen. It doesn’t know when to say when. The film may benefit from great locations – London, the streets of Coventry, the canals of Amsterdam, The Hague – but all it can do when showing these sights is to blow them up within seconds of arrival, or cause a great deal of damage, with no consequences or any apparent damage to the main characters.
A few funny things really did happen on the way to the court room, only somewhere along the road it became too violent, and too mean spirited. And for something the studios wanted to turn into a comedy, not nearly funny enough.
MPAA Rating: R Length: 111 Minutes Overall Rating: 5 (out of 10)