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Hitman's Bodyguard: A flabby, substandard buddy movie

Hitman’s Bodyguard is a fan-pleaser with Reynolds and Jackson underlining the zany humor to distract us from its inept script.

The Hitman’s Bodyguard won’t be enjoyable for people well-versed in 80s buddy movies like Midnight Run, 48 Hrs., or Lethal Weapon, and the recent gems of the subgenre like Kiss Kiss Bang Bang or The Nice Guys. Otherwise, the multiplex audience can tolerate, or will be unaware of, many recycled tropes and elementary mistakes. The reason is we didn’t have high hope for Patrick Hughes, who directed Expendables 3, and this road trip buddy movie undoubtedly survives on individual performances (by Ryan Reynolds and Samuel L. Jackson) and character chemistry.

The effective formula never changes. The lead is a cranky, by-the-book, square guy who plans ahead of everything but can’t find his work-life balance. The other guy is the foil—a self-absorbed comic relief who causes problems, improvises, and cracks wise. Under a circumstance that glues them together, the mismatched duo fight, overshare, and bond over psychological baggage. Finally, the foil helps the lead deal with personal problems.

The sarcastic, uptight Michael Bryce (Reynolds) was at the top of his game two years ago as a professional bodyguard with triple A rating (whatever that is) before a high-profile client got head-shot in front of him. Now, he lives in a car, pisses in bottles, and resorts to low-grade coked-up clients (Richard E. Grant’s appearance is memorable). This circumstance sets up clouded motivations when his ex-girlfriend Amelia (Elodie Yung) needs an outsider for her botched job, in which her whole squad is eliminated. Michael accepts to escort the hitman Darius Kincaid (Jackson) to The Hague, where this hitman will depose against an insultingly clichéd Belorussian dictator. Our villain here is Vladislav Dukhovich (Gary Oldman and his Eastern Europe accent), who stands trial for his war crimes while getting rid of every witness with evidence. But Darius has Michael.

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So here go our hitman and bodyguard, collectively as the moving magnet of European killers. They stray around many a montage of punch-ups and neck-breaking—with the staggering body count—due to the Darius’ carefree, lunatic behaviors. Jackson has outrageous fun playing this mouthy hitman, who annoys his grumpy companion by firing trivial quips or babbling the lyrics of drinking song “Bevilo tutto” on a bus ride full of nuns. The beaten path, however, comes clearer as we see Darius singing like the way Eddie Murphy’s Reggie was introduced in 48 Hrs. with Sting’s “Roxanne.” The script prepares a recurring meta-joke for Jackson’s real life antics: as Darius spits profanity at everything, Michael comments on the hitman’s mania for a particular curse word. On contrary, Michael’s carefulness—the butt of many flimsy jokes—is downplayed next to the wild card that is Darius’ happy-go-lucky attitude. The bodyguard faintly proves his elasticity, warbling “I Saw The Sign” as a response to Darius’ chanting.

With this equalizing act, the basic drawback becomes evident. Hitman’s Bodyguard can't decide which one is the main character, so both of them get the superstar approach. Nobody wants to waste Jackson and Reynolds anyway, and the characters even have an ethical debate about the legitimacy of their jobs. In the end, the hitman comes out with more pride and no remorse. His personality is always the audience’s favorite, and Hughes grants Darius some implausible action scenes—who jumps with a wounded leg like that?

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As the men recount their shared and individual histories, including Darius’ twenty-eight kill attempts at Michael, the topic settles at the women in their lives. Darius’ incentive from the get-go is to free his imprisoned wife in exchange for his testimony against Dukhovich. Sonia Kincaid (Salma Hayek), intended to chew some sceneries with intensely brazen sassiness, takes over more than what the movie needs. She calls Darius her Darius La Cucaracha, which confirms our strong theory about Darius’ immortality. Whereas the actress has a blast destroying dignity during prison scenes, an over-the-top flashback with Lionel Ritchie's “Hello” and a cheap fart joke perplex me. This movie is the kind of R-rated comedy in which one joke lands with two others instantly miss.

There’s an obvious secret regarding Michael's past failure, held back till the second half, to sneak in more personal grudge. The impact of this lamentable writing effort is zilch, aside from more forgettable jokes. Michael and Darius then dive into the former’s muddled love life. Darius tries to be the offhand love guru, though I doubt anyone who advises anyone to reunite with Amelia is a good advisor. In 80s buddy cop movies, the love interest usually is reduced to the pressure of normal life, but a 2017 movie must include an empowered girl. Never competent, Amelia is so boring that the script takes advantage of her incapacity in order to aid the villain's plan and provide Michael an easy shot to redeem himself. Hell, an Interpol traitor even tells Dukhovich Amelia is a rookie assigned to assure the failure. If she weren’t the bottom line Michael and Darius are trying to get to, I wouldn't pay attention to Amelia and enjoy their European ride more.

Elodie Young as Amelia

Most of the action scenes are repetitive, with little variation in vehicles, weapons, or settings. Hughes proved his aptitude for staging minimalist shootouts in his debut (neo-Western Red Hill), yet for elaborate chases with a larger requirement of set pieces, he inserts little personal flavor to heighten the popcorn excitement. In smaller settings—the kitchen and the hardware store—well-shot fights become more absorbing with stimulating choreography and the use of relevant objects.

With a heavy focus on the duo, the movie underuses the authoritative forces, who should be the third party but only scurry around the main plot like unwelcome guests. Oldman mostly overacts in the relegated presence as his out-of-sync role is too dark for the escapist purpose. The character ultimately hijacks the ending to extend 15 more minutes of unresolved consequence. After all, Hitman’s Bodyguard is only a fan-pleaser with Reynolds and Jackson underlining the zany humor to distract us from its inept script.