The late period of summer movie season often comes with a general sense of weariness and lowered expectations; The time for blockbusters has passed, with smaller fare making its way to cinemas in order to ease filmgoers into the Oscar season that is yet to come. What this often means is that we’ll get horror films, more grounded action pictures, and the first of many dramas chasing awards. And odds are that they won’t be particularly good, leading to the reputation that August is the summer’s dumping ground. But occasionally we’ll get a real gem out of this time of the year, a real pleasant surprise. And while The Hitman’s Bodyguard is not that, it’s still a lot of fun, which is really all one can ask for at this time of year.
Michael Bryce (Ryan Reynolds) is a triple-A-rated (he mentions that a lot) special protection agent who loses everything after one of his charges is murdered on his watch. Now fairly destitute, Bryce gets a call from his Interpol agent ex-girlfriend (Élodie Yung) and is given a special task: protect contract killer Darius Kincaid (Samuel L. Jackson) on his way to the Hague in order to be a witness in the case of a maniacal Belarusian dictator (Gary Oldman, giving exactly the kind of performance one would expect him to give in this kind of film.) There’s only one problem with this: Bryce and Kincaid despise each other. Take three guesses as to how this ends up.
The first thing that needs to be addressed is that the film was obviously working on a budget that was much too small for this kind of star-studded actioner. At a reported $30 million, a lot of clear shortcuts were taken in order to keep the film on-budget, the most obvious being many instances of truly abominable greenscreen work. It becomes incredibly distracting, especially during dialogue scenes where greenscreen isn’t normally expected. In comparison, the film’s mediocre CGI feels less distracting, though it’s also noticeable at many points.
But besides that, the film is generally well-crafted. Between this and the only remotely watchable film in the Expendables franchise, Patrick Hughes is becoming a director to keep an eye on. Despite some jerky editing at the beginning, the action is well-done, and there’s a pair of oners in the third act that feel like a masterclass in chaotic staging.
The comedy, however, is much more mixed. Similar to the action, it starts out quite rough, with a penchant for going for cheap bodily-fluid jokes. But as the film settles into its rhythm, the comedy improves, and while Reynolds and Jackson’s banter still relies on punctuating every joke with at least twenty curse words, it quickly becomes the star of show.
To expand on that, Reynolds and Jackson are both absolutely fabulous in this film. Their comic chemistry is off-the-charts, and the film feels at least fifteen minutes shorter than it actually is just based on the strength of their combined presences. And while the film definitely thrives off of their abrasiveness, there is a beating heart at the center of their relationship that makes a number of their conversations downright adorable.
Now, I will admit that I’m grading this film on a bit of a curve. It’s the end of the summer, I’m about to start classes again, and we’re living in some pretty shitty times right now. But at the same time, this is a legitimately entertaining film that is clearly having a lot of fun with itself, and is fairly sweet despite being a film that mostly focuses on two angry men yelling at each other. I’d say that it’s worth a look.