In a way, it would be a shame to saddle Samuel L. Jackson and Ryan Reynolds with too much plot in THE HITMAN’S BODYGUARD. The snark fest that they provide as adversaries forced to endure one another’s company is its own reward as they travel from Manchester to The Hague while fending off some very determined assassins. Sure, the story sags with a few less than inspired chase sequences. Sure, the script could have used some tightening before cameras rolled. Sure, the mood changes both abruptly and capriciously. Yet, through it all, no one does a better ironic slow burn than Ryan, and no one demonstrates a more ferocious joie de vivre than Jackson. Together, they light up the screen with even more incandescence than the countless cars that go up in flames during the film’s 118 minutes of running time. Brisker writing would have made for a better movie, but not for a better buddy flick.
Reynolds is Michael Bryce, once the best private bodyguard in the business, catering to an elite clientele until one job gone wrong sends him from posh to impoverished, from sleek weapons dealers to coked-up lawyers (Richard E. Grant in a film-stealing cameo of effete neurosis). A call from his estranged ex-wife, Amelia (Elodie Yung), a commando of an Interpol agent, offers him a second chance at his old life. The catch, and of course there is one, is that it involves Darius Kincaid (Jackson), a contract killer with the only testimony that will put an evil dictator (Gary Oldman) behind bars. Get Kincaid to court before it adjourns, and doors will be re-opened for Bryce. Kincaid is just as motivated as Bryce in all this, though his motives are of a more tender nature. His beloved wife, Sonia (Salma Hayak), will be set free from the trumped-up charges against her if he testifies. It is almost worth the price of admission alone to see Jackson glower at the man offering him the deal and opine that it’s mighty white of him.
Along the way, through shoot-outs, explosions, and a cow-filled meadow at midnight, the two aggravate the heck out of one another and, naturally, though screaming and kicking all the way, bond. They have too much in common not to when it comes violence, and too little in common when it comes to approaching life for it not to be a struggle. The film is at its best when it embraces its hyperbolic absurdity. Kincaid meeting his match in the curvaceous Sonia, who is as violent as he is while fending off the unwelcome advances of hapless bar patrons, or Bryce weaponizing a hardware store as he fends off a seemingly unkillable assassin in the dictator’s employee.
Turning somber as it recounts the dictator’s crimes, while driving home the point that he is a very man, stops the action in its tracks, which is even more of a mistake when you have Oldman in the role. The man can evoke evil incarnate without superfluous exposition. Equally noteworthy is Hayak. She delivers a fearsomely comic performance, spewing vivid profanity with the assured refinement of a dominatrix while assuming yogic poses of serenity amid the fear she engenders in those who visit her prison cell.
THE HITMAN’S BODYGUARD is violent and bloody romp that dares to consider the hazards of moral relativity in a milieu where life is cheap, and the redemptive power of true love for even the souls most lost. Kudos for that, and, when it’s on point, for being so wickedly funny.