In 2017, Lionsgate spat out an action-comedy called The Hitman’s Bodyguard, which you may or may not have seen but have likely forgotten either way. It coasted on the charisma of its leading men—Ryan Reynolds and Samuel L. Jackson—and was an okay time at best. But it made more money than it cost, so a sequel lurches forth like a braindead zombie, oblivious to the fact that the world only wanted it when its face was fresh, original, and not adorned in rotting flesh. But what Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard presupposes is that you might want to see the zombie if it’s Salma Hayek.

Indeed, Hayek is the wife that’s been shoved into the sequel’s title. While she’s on honeymoon with notorious hitman Darius Kincaid (Jackson), Darius is kidnapped by the Mafia, prompting her to seek out the only man who’s had her husband’s back: bodyguard Michael Bryce (Reynolds). Bryce is on the verge of losing his bodyguarding license for associating with Darius, so he doesn’t want anything to do with the mission—but the fiery Sonia Kincaid doesn’t give him a choice.

READ ALSO: Chemistry between stars helps ‘The Hitman’s Bodyguard’

Like the first movie, the plot is set into motion by a political conflict that gets dumber the more seriously it’s taken. This time around, a wealthy Greek terrorist wants to cripple Europe’s power grid as revenge for the European Union’s economic sanctions on Greece (a motive that would’ve been topical, say, nine years ago). The background events are, thankfully, sillier than those of the first film, which tried to have fun with a plot about genocide (a bit of a tonal clash there). Any notions that dire are dispelled by Antonio Banderas strutting around as a villain named Aristotle Papadopoulos, but Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard could’ve gone way sillier with its story, given how comedic the rest of the movie is. Listening to Interpol agents establish the stakes of the conflict is a waste of time. This is an irreverent buddy comedy, not Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.

But yes, the level of seriousness has gone down a notch from the first movie, which tried to flip between “slaughter is tragic!” and “slaughter is hilarious!” at a moment’s notice. Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard, conversely, is a wanton slaughterfest from minute one, and the murdering is taken much more lightly. No one is meant to be cared about here, not the hitman, his wife, nor their bodyguard, who are all separate incarnations of the same comic relief. Darius Kincaid: loud and abrasive, with a spoonful of Samuel L. Jackson’s vulgar shtick. Michael Bryce: loud and abrasive, with a spoonful of Ryan Reynolds’ vulgar shtick. Sonia Kincaid: loud and abrasive, but she spews vulgarities that (men imagine) women use. The new guy played by Frank Grillo is the same exact character but with an Interpol badge. If you’re a fan of shouting swears and sex words, everyone in this movie has you covered.

The sound mixing is just as loud and abrasive as the protagonists. It seems the sound engineering team was guided by one philosophy: if it’s violent, turn it up to 11. Punches land with roaring thuds; every gunshot is deafening. If you could survive at the center of an explosion, I imagine this is what the sensory overload would sound like. This makes the action scenes more obnoxious than entertaining—a problem made worse by the lack of visual thrill. More so than The Hitman’s Bodyguard, this is action comprised of shaky handheld footage and quick cuts. Guns fire, cut; blurry bodies spurt some fake blood, cut; do that again for practically every kill. Sometimes key action happens off-screen. Even the European settings aren’t as diverting: nothing here matches the picturesque chaos of the first movie’s boat chase through the canals of Amsterdam.

The best ideas are over as soon as they’ve begun. One action scene promises an interesting dynamic: Sonia has a bomb on her wrist that will explode if she’s away from a suitcase for more than fifteen seconds. But in the scene that follows, in which a group of armed criminals is trying to get their hands on the suitcase, the fifteen-seconds timer almost never starts counting down, and when it does, it’s resolved with barely any trouble. With the exception of a few visual gags, the action and comedy of Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard are coldly separate—you’ll laugh at the main trio’s antics; you’ll bide your time when the bullets are flying. Even when the antics and bullets are simultaneous, fights are treated as opportunities to crack wise rather than as set pieces of their own.  Rarely does the action flaunt the violent creativity that better filmmakers wring out of action-comedy. 

That’s not to say the movie’s never funny, though. You almost have to appreciate how enormously little it’s trying: it doesn’t take long for the plot to begin making zero sense, with characters showing up out of nowhere or turning out to be completely different people just to keep the story’s wheels spinning. But as with its attitude toward human life, the movie just doesn’t care. Its standards for itself are transparently low, and when you join it in that mindset, it can be a blast to sit back, down some popcorn, and listen to Salma Hayek unleash a string of profanities. It’s hard to find that anywhere but the movie theater. Unless you’re breaking and entering.

★★   (2/5)