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The Hitman’s Bodyguard

Sarah Ward

Endeavouring to coast by on star power, this odd-couple action-comedy can only take bickering and shootouts so far.
The Hitman’s Bodyguard

Samuel L Jackson and Ryan Reynolds star in The Hitman's Bodyguard. Image via Roadshow.

In The Hitman’s Bodyguard, the chasm between intention and actuality starts big and just keeps getting bigger – for the on-screen characters, and for those responsible for putting them there. Executive protective agent Michael Bryce (Ryan Reynolds, Life) aims to keep his clients safe, but after he fails on one big job, his career takes a nosedive. Two years later, Interpol’s Amelia Roussel (Elodie Yung, TV’s The Defenders) endeavours to escort detained assassin Darius Kincaid (Samuel L. Jackson, Kong: Skull Island) to testify against a bloodthirsty dictator (Gary Oldman, Criminal) in The Hague, but is waylaid by the latter’s thugs. When these two threads intertwine, the film wants to conjure a breezy, amusing, odd couple-focused action-comedy; however a rote, clichéd rehash is the end result. 

Aping decades-ago successes such as 48 Hours and Lethal Weapon, The Hitman’s Bodyguard spends the bulk of its length charting Bryce and Kincaid’s awkward time together. A lawman and a lawbreaker forced to team up, a young gun and an old hand bristling against each other – both apply. One half of the duo is the organised, exacting, dependable chalk to the other’s grinning, playing-it-loose cheese, and, with their professional history a sore spot, neither is particularly happy about travelling across Europe in shared company. Complicating matters is Bryce’s romantic past with Roussel, who he blames for his current situation. For Kincaid’s part, he’s only cooperating to get his incarcerated wife Sonia (Salma Hayek, Beatriz at Dinner) out of prison. 

Written by the numbers by Tom O’Connor (Fire with Fire), and directed with generic glossiness by Australian helmer Patrick Hughes (The Expendables 3), the movie that eventuates embodies run-of-the-mill filmmaking: churned out without difficulty, but also without excellence in mind. Plot points are hit with the same bluntness displayed in most of the feature’s action scenes, which themselves prove messy, CGI-heavy and over-extended. Indeed, both the script and the execution suffer from an inflated sense of ease, seeming to assume that the been-there, done-that nature of everything involved will work well enough. 

Accordingly, the burden of keeping the audience engaged resides not with a narrative that takes every expected turn, or with routine explosions and shootouts, but with The Hitman’s Bodyguard’s stars. Reynolds and Jackson have played similar roles before, and on paper, their pairing appears primed for the kind of undemanding entertainment that can be labelled “switch-your-brain-off fun”. Alas, though both bring the requisite elements to their mismatched dynamic – calm swagger, gleeful swearing – they’re not asked to deliver more than that. The difference between intending to capitalise on what the duo does best, and just letting them do so passably, is unsurprisingly sizeable. Uninspired bickering, bantering and bouncing off of each other can only take the film so far.

Ultimately, in thinking that the film could coast by thanks to its cast, The Hitman’s Bodyguard suffers from not finding its own niche. Oldman’s over-the-top villain and Hayek’s scene-stealing jailbird are played and pegged for a movie that’s much more cartoonish, even though subtlety is noticeably absent throughout. Conversely, while the material isn’t afraid of grim action inclusions, or nods to current terrorist acts, it also smacks of smashing down something serious to fit the comedic potential of its leads. Exaggerated but not committing to silly extremes, and delving into darker territory without any depth, the space between is as bland as it sounds.

2 stars out of 5

The Hitman’s Bodyguard

Director: Patrick Hughes      

USA | China | Bulgaria | Netherlands, 2017, 118 mins

Release date: August 31

Distributor: Roadshow

Rated: MA

What the stars mean?
  • Five stars: Exceptional, unforgettable, a must see
  • Four and a half stars: Excellent, definitely worth seeing
  • Four stars: Accomplished and engrossing but not the best of its kind
  • Three and a half stars: Good, clever, well made, but not brilliant
  • Three stars: Solid, enjoyable, but unremarkable or flawed
  • Two and half stars: Neither good nor bad, just adequate
  • Two stars: Not without its moments, but ultimately unsuccessful
  • One star: Awful, to be avoided
  • Zero stars: Genuinely dreadful, bad on every level

About the author

Sarah Ward is a freelance film critic, arts and culture writer, and film festival organiser. She is the Australia-based critic for Screen International, a film reviewer and writer for ArtsHub, the weekend editor and a senior writer for Concrete Playground, a writer for the Goethe-Institut Australien’s Kino in Oz, and a contributor to SBS, Metro Magazine and Screen Education. Her work has been published by the Australian Centre for the Moving Image, Junkee, FilmInk, Birth.Movies.Death, Lumina, Senses of Cinema, Broadsheet, Televised Revolution, and the World Film Locations book series. She is also the editor of Trespass Magazine, a film and TV critic for ABC radio Brisbane, Gold Coast and Sunshine Coast, and has worked with the Brisbane International Film Festival, Queensland Film Festival, Sydney Underground Film Festival and Melbourne International Film Festival. Follow her on Twitter: @swardplay