Chemistry between stars helps ‘The Hitman’s Bodyguard’

Above: Michael Bryce (Ryan Reynolds) and Darius Kincaid (Samuel L. Jackson) in "The Hitman's Bodyguard." (Image Courtesy of Lionsgate Entertainment) Things to do | 18 Aug, 2017 |

Should we be thankful when dumb summer movies aren’t terrible? Or should we only pay to see smart summer movies? If you’ve seen advertisements for “The Hitman’s Bodyguard” floating around and are considering rolling the financial dice, here are your odds.

“The Hitman’s Bodyguard” is a buddy action comedy with a fairly straightforward premise. Michael Bryce (Ryan Reynolds) is a prestigious executive protection agent — a very good bodyguard, rather. After an important client dies on his watch, he loses his triple-A rating and settles for the life of a small-time bodyguard. That is until his former coworker (and former flame) calls on him to help protect Darius Kincaid (Samuel L. Jackson), a ruthless but charming hitman who has dirt on the genocidal dictator of Belarus.

Credit to screenwriter Tom O’Connor that these moving parts never feel convoluted. For the most part, “The Hitman’s Bodyguard” avoids the trap of silly action movies descending into seriousness. But when it does stumble in that regard, it’s deadly serious; when it could use a dash of gravity, it aims for levity. Genuinely fun moments and charismatic leads blast their way out of the tonal chaos.

A large percentage of the movie’s audience will be paying to see Ryan Reynolds and Sam Jackson, and rightfully so. The two are clearly enjoying themselves and each other’s company. Their individual commitments to the film’s over-the-top humor are commendable, but it’s their chemistry that enriches the experience.  Their interactions typically boil down to Sam Jackson (playing an exaggerated version of Sam Jackson) bringing out the ridiculousness in Ryan Reynolds (playing a subdued version of Ryan Reynolds), and it’s hard to watch without grinning.

No thanks to the dialogue though. The leads’ comedic timing fares better than the writing, which is more lazily profane than clever. The back and forth is Tarantino-lite: all guilty pleasure and little wordplay. It does spice up the romantic subplots, oddly enough. Love is amusingly aggressive in this world. The visual comedy of “The Hitman’s Bodyguard”, which stems from the movie’s general go-for-broke attitude, brings the biggest laughs. The third car chase through a major European city would feel tedious if not for some admirable insanity.

Tonal shifts more violent than the movie’s body count hold it back from cohesive fun. This is particularly evident in how the film treats human life: at times people are dying back and forth purely for entertainment value (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing if this absurdity is consistent); other times the film is killing off a child or depicting genocide with the seriousness those moments demand. Is life sacred or is it a joke? It’s unpleasant to be barraged with both alternatives.

A couple conversations raise interesting questions about the ethics of so-called righteous killing, but not only are these questions never explored — they’re betrayed. A key moment near the finale abandons the idea that these questions should ever be asked. It’s downright cynical.

A decent amount of shoddy craftsmanship bogs “The Hitman’s Bodyguard” down too. The color grading is intrusive and ugly, the sound mixing oscillates between irritating and muddled, and this breed of manic action direction doesn’t cut it in a world of “Atomic Blonde” and “John Wick.”

“The Hitman’s Bodyguard” isn’t a bad film, but it’s not a good one either, and the chemistry between the leads pulls it out of mediocrity. It exists in a sort of cinematic purgatory that demands late night party viewing, or theater viewing if you’ve got the money and really like to hear Sam Jackson swearing.

★★★   (3/5)

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