Sometimes all it takes is one great image. From there the fertile imaginings of a visionary filmmaker can build a story that is a compelling, even wondrous, cinematic experience. Alas, that is not the case with HITMAN.
The image is of a striking bald guy (Timothy Olyphant) in a well-tailored black suit striding about with a cosmopolitan, even world-weary gait and taking out his targets with dispassionate skill, even grace. He also has a UPC bar code tattooed onto the back of his head. It’s the mark given him in lieu of a proper name by the super secret (what else?) organization that takes in children cast off by society and turns them into killing machines. As long as it’s just Olyphant doing the striding thing, everything’s fine. Maybe it worked for the compute game on which this is based. The problem is that building a film of 90 minutes or so around a guy striding is a formidable task and judging from the result here, an insurmountable one.
Olyphant isn’t bad here. His skull is nicely shaped, which is important. He scowls nicely and moves with a ruthless efficiency while breaking the sixth commandment (fifth for the Roman Catholics and Lutherans reading). He also does a credible job of acting with all the befuddlement of a 12-year-old boy in the face, and other anatomical parts, of his reluctant traveling companion, Nika (Olga Kurylenko, who seems to think she is in a good film and pours her heart into the role). Why he is unwilling to be completely seduced by her is never explained. Why he is smitten is, of course, that the film needs eye candy and an excuse for our hitman, 47 to his friends, to show his tender side, or at least what passes for it. That would include letting Nika and her heavy eye-makeup out of the trunk after a few hours, tossing a bag of breakfast at her, and complaining that she has failed to appreciate his gesture of tossing out the dead body she was originally traveling with back there. Naturally she is charmed by this after the bumpy ride and the way he came to close to pulling the trigger on her mere hours beforehand. This isn’t Stockholm Syndrome. This is a script written with the sensibility of a geeky 12-year-old boy and then dumbed-down some. More than some.
It would be a kindness to think that it was trying to make any sense of the plot either. The action moves from England to Russia to Turkey with an insouciance that is the only truly breathtaking aspect of the flick. The dialogue is full of one-liners desperate to be catchphrases, and characters whose job is to say them. A Russian leader is assassinated, or maybe not. The Russian secret police may be behind it. Or maybe not. For some reason the hitman and his new lady friend have to go to Turkey to visit the putatively dead Russian leader’s brother (Henry Ian Cusak looking greasy and disinterested even while waiving a gun). And for some reason the Interpol guy (Dougray Scott) can’t get anyone to take him seriously as he tracks the hitman across the planet.
The gadgets are disappointingly cheap-looking, especially a door alarm/bomb that seems like a dime-store disco ball strung on fishing line. The direction is equally sub-par. Xavier Gens can’t find an exciting moment is bombs, guns, leaping from balconies, a helicopter unloading a considerable arsenal at a cathedral, or extended sessions of whoop-ass involving what appear to be very long, very shiny bread knives.
An action flick can be many things and succeed. It can be a flight of fancy, or a gritty wallow, or even a stylish foray into black humor. The one thing it can’t be and succeed is bland, and that is exactly what HITMAN is.