Ryan Reynolds and Samuel L. Jackson are movie stars for a reason. They may not always pick the most successful properties, but when they’re in their element, audiences connect with them and want to see them do more. While actors typically look for roles that will challenge them and broaden their range (a move that’s both creatively fulfilling and career savvy), there’s something to be said for playing the type that created a fanbase in the first place. In The Hitman’s Bodyguard, Reynolds is playing the wise-ass we all know and love and Jackson is the badass we all know and love. Putting them together makes for a fun team up, and their chemistry lifts the movie through even its laziest moments.
Michael Bryce (Reynolds) is a “protection agent” (i.e. bodyguard) who has fallen on hard times after his last client was sniped in the head. Two years after that botched job, Bryce has a way to get his standing back when his ex-girlfriend and Interpol agent Amelia Roussel (Elodie Yung) offers him a gig to escort notorious assassin Darius Kincaid (Jackson) to the Hague to testify against war criminal Vladislav Dukhovich (Gary Oldman). While Kincaid says he can get to the Hague just fine on his own, he agrees to let Bryce be his escort even though he’s tried to kill him on 28 previous occasions. The mismatched duo makes their way across Europe, dodging Dukhovich’s goons and trying not to kill each other.
The Hitman’s Bodyguard is almost working overtime not to reinvent the wheel. It’s basically Midnight Run but with Reynolds and Jackson playing their most famous types. Reynolds has a dry, sardonic wit that sometimes bubbles up to inchoate rage, and Jackson says “motherfucker” a lot as he swings between calm badass to angry badass. You know who these actors are, and while arguably they’ve given these same kind of performances in better movies (to name just a few, Reynolds with Deadpool, Waiting…, and Adventureland and Jackson with Pulp Fiction, Jackie Brown, and Die Hard with a Vengeance), there’s still something comforting in the familiarity. While I wouldn’t want these two actors to play these kinds of characters in every single movie, there’s nothing wrong with watching them bounce off each other, especially when it looks like they’re having a blast doing it.
The strength of the film basically rests entirely on Reynolds and Jackson. While Oldman is collecting a paycheck and Salma Hayek has a few good scenes as Kincaid’s wife, as an actioner, you see that director Patrick Hughes is being left behind by people who are pushing the genre forward. While I don’t expect everyone to be as good as David Leitch, Chad Stahleski, or Gareth Evans, Hughes’ direction is the definition of serviceable. You can kind of follow where a set piece is going, but it rarely has the momentum necessary to really surprise you. For example, there’s a scene where Bryce is following Kincaid on a motorcycle, and Hughes gets a lot of good coverage of the motorcycle, and it ends with a neat explosion, but there’s nothing memorable about it. The movie has a hard-R, and while there’s plenty of bloodshed, it doesn’t really leave an impression. Your biggest takeaway will be that cars explode very easily in this movie.
Eventually, even Reynolds and Jackson aren’t enough to salvage the movie as the plot lurches into a third act that feels heavy on set pieces but low on stakes. Without exciting action to carry the picture, we’re left wondering why events are transpiring. For example, at one point, the goons go after Bryce and Kincaid, which makes no sense since Kincaid is the one who is supposed to be testifying against Dukhovich. But the thinking seemed to be, “We need to split up our leads and give them each their own action scene, so here we are.” It’s lazy screenwriting, and it works against the picture, not only because it makes no sense, but also because it removes the strongest element—Reynolds and Jackson sharing the screen.
Because it lacks anything particularly notable or memorable, The Hitman’s Bodyguard is a prime example of disposable cinema. It’s the kind of movie you watch on an airplane or when you want a lazy night in. It doesn’t demand to be seen because it doesn’t demand anything of itself that hasn’t been done better in better movies. That’s not an unforgivable sin, and movies that play by the rules have their place. Not every film has to be a game-changer, and The Hitman’s Bodyguard is more than happy to play a familiar game.