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The Hitman's Bodyguard has all the makings of a fun summer hit. What makes it so dull?

You can't have a bromance without chemistry.

Samuel L. Jackson and Ryan Reynolds in The Hitman’s Bodyguard
Samuel L. Jackson and Ryan Reynolds in The Hitman’s Bodyguard
Lionsgate

The Hitman’s Bodyguard is being marketed as a bromance, which it is, in the sense that it features two (aggressively straight) guys driving around and kind of becoming friends while cracking jokes.

But really, it’s just a semi-successful action flick. There are some top-notch action scenes throughout, though they’re marred by explosions rendered in distractingly unrealistic CGI. And there’s no denying the star power of Ryan Reynolds and Samuel L. Jackson.

But what any [b]romance requires is some chemistry between the leads. And in The Hitman’s Bodyguard, that never materializes. Jackson and especially Reynolds are funny and kinetic as action heroes, but when it gets down to the business of the bromance — which the film clearly wants to play up — it veers off into a snorefest, with their respective other romances seemingly bolted onto the plot to make them more interesting.

Samuel L. Jackson and Ryan Reynolds in The Hitman’s Bodyguard
Samuel L. Jackson and Ryan Reynolds in The Hitman’s Bodyguard
Lionsgate

The Hitman’s Bodyguard has a predictable plot that never quite comes together

Part of The Hitman’s Bodyguard problem may simply be its framing device: the trial of the tyrannical former Belarusian president Vladislav Dukovich (Gary Oldman), who’s being tried in the International Criminal Court for war crimes and atrocities. I don’t know about you, but I am not really up for the whole cruel-murderous-leader-with-a-vaguely-Russian-accent trope right now, though the protestors outside the court look vaguely familiar, with one holding up a sign that reads “I am too young to be this mad.”

Michael Bryce (Reynolds) is an “executive protection agent” hired by Interpol to retrieve and protect Darius Kincaid (Jackson), a hitman with whom Interpol has struck a deal: testify against Dukovich, and they’ll free his wife Sonia (Salma Hayek) from a Dutch prison.

Samuel L. Jackson and Ryan Reynolds in The Hitman’s Bodyguard
Samuel L. Jackson in The Hitman’s Bodyguard
Lionsgate

Kincaid may be a stone-cold killer, but he is all heat and passion when it comes to Sonia. So he agrees. The fastidious Bryce is less than enthusiastic about his new charge, who keeps escaping his grasp like a greased piglet. But he’s especially mad because the Interpol agent who brought him onto the mission, Amelia Roussel (Elodie Yung), is responsible (or so he believes) for his downgrade years earlier from a “Triple-A” protection agent to his present modest circumstances. She’s also his ex-girlfriend.

The rest of the film is a mix of road trip soliloquies, epic chase scenes, and bloody combat sequences. The requisite hitman movie philosophical discourses on guilt and innocence (are you worse if you protect bad guys or kill them?) are mixed with ruminations on life and love. And as Kincaid and Bryce lurch ludicrously and painfully toward their ultimate goal — the courtroom — they encounter more and more opponents who are out, quite literally, for blood.

The Hitman’s Bodyguard doesn’t deliver on any of its promises

The action mostly works in The Hitman’s Bodyguard, but any bromance requires some soul-baring. Unfortunately, the film’s chattier scenes are undeniably its weak points, though they incorporate flashbacks — to the moments when the two men met their romantic interests — that zip and zing with passion. Those flashbacks, though, have the unfortunate effect of reminding us how little Yung and Hayek have to do in this movie; Hayek especially, in a whirling dervish of a role, is a far too minor character locked up in a jail cell and only interesting for how she drives forward Kincaid’s plot.

And, I mean, fine. This is a movie about a hitman and a bodyguard, not their love lives. But why write a character as terrific as Hayek’s and then trap her in a cell without breathing room for nearly all of the film? The Hitman’s Bodyguard feels a bit like a step back into the past, when “love interests” existed purely to advance a movie’s plot instead of being three-dimensional characters of their own. Even Bond girls get to do more these days than just wait around.

Samuel L. Jackson and Ryan Reynolds in The Hitman’s Bodyguard
Samuel L. Jackson and Ryan Reynolds in The Hitman’s Bodyguard
Lionsgate

Then again, if the interactions between the hitman and his bodyguard were more clever or interesting, this wouldn’t matter so much. Or if their conversations actually raised the philosophical and even theological issues they’re obviously trying to surface with some kind of freshness, it might even work. (An underexplored side plot, in which a preacher is murdered in his own church, holds more potential than the movie’s willing to give it.)

But as it is, all the talking slows the plot down, and the crazy blocking and shooting of various action scenes — which employ every kind of vehicle, from motorboats to motorbikes — is hampered by the pacing. Same for the well-choreographed and aptly shot fight scenes, which are bloody and inventive. That those scenes work so well is no surprise in the hands of director Patrick Hughes, best known for his turn at the helm of The Expendables 3. But you find yourself wondering halfway through how much more of this can possibly get shoehorned into the uninspired plot before it’s all over. (Answer: lots.)

The shining exception to the mediocrity here is Ryan Reynolds, who isn’t given a ton to work with but uses it anyway to showcase his uncanny ability to bounce from uptight rule-follower to dogged, unrelenting action star at a moment’s notice. Jackson is a reliable presence on screen, and in The Hitman’s Bodyguard he’s doing his reliable thing, which comes to life alongside Hayek. But Reynolds’s character has a wider range than anyone, and he takes full advantage of it.

In the end, though, The Hitman’s Bodyguard is strangely soulless, particularly for a movie that wants to be about murder, morality, and revenge. Those elements are there only to serve up the appearance of a smart film, when The Hitman’s Bodyguard would have been better served by sticking to pure action and stupid humor.

It’s a shame, mostly because The Hitman’s Bodyguard had the potential to be a weird, funny summer flick. (That movie, instead, is Logan Lucky, also out this weekend.) But instead it staggers, and ultimately it’s DOA.

The Hitman’s Bodyguard opens in theaters on August 18.