One of the trickiest things about being a critic can be weighing your reactions to a piece of art in a manner that does justice to what you like about a piece as opposed to what you dislike. In a reductive sense, that’s exactly what criticism is, but it can sometimes be difficult to judge a piece that so steadfastly straddle the line of mediocrity that it’s hard to either recommend or condemn it. The Hitman’s Bodyguard is one such film, for it isn’t without its charms, but it’s a really tough argument to say that those make up for its lackluster faults. If you’re spending the majority of the runtime asking yourself “Do I like this?” it’s generally not a good sign.
The Hitman’s Bodyguard follows disgraced protection agent Michael Bryce (Ryan Reynolds) after he’s been tasked by his Interpol ex-girlfriend, Amelia (Elodie Yung), with protecting a key witness in a case against dictatorial war criminal Vladislav Dukhovich (Gary Oldman), who has placed a mole within Interpol, hence why Amelia feels the need to bring in Bryce. However, this witness turns out to be none other than Darius Kincaid (Samuel L. Jackson), an assassin who has threatened Bryce’s clients many times before. Bryce only agrees to the protection job because he believes it may be a path back to prestige in the protection community, so he and Kincaid make the trek across Europe to reach the court before the deadline for his appearance, only to be constantly delayed by Dukhovich’s forces.
As an action comedy, the half where The Hitman’s Bodyguard succeeds most is in the action. Fist fights, car chases, and gun brawls all get their due over the course of the film, and most are executed with enough visceral thrill to be mindlessly entertaining, even if they aren’t particularly inventive in their execution. It feels a lot like a throwback to mainstream 90s action cinema, where extended sequences of car- and gunplay function as white noise rather than moments of intense engagement, which is fine, even if the cinematography suffers whenever the hand-to-hand combat enters enclosed spaces. There’s a place for inconsequential thrills, but ideally there would be more comic or narrative meat to support those beats.
The biggest problems with the film come straight from the screenplay, which seems virtually incapable of writing a good joke for its leads to deliver. Sure, Reynolds and Jackson sell their parts with a ton of charisma, Reynolds playing a straight-laced planner while Jackson tackles a devil-may-care freewheeling persona, but that doesn’t negate the fact that neither of them are given much of anything funny to say. Every moment I laughed felt as if it originated from the performances or some improvisational element thereof, and those moments are unfortunately too few and far between. This is hampered by a screenplay that drags itself out about a half hour too long, loading the first act with extraneous set-up, the second with bloated, inconsequential gags, and the third with multiple climaxes. It turns something mildly amusing into a slog, even if some of the movie’s best moments are in that latter half.
This makes The Hitman’s Bodyguard the vision of mediocrity. None of its sins are so egregious that it deserves anyone’s vitriol, but it never quite rises to the occasion to make those sins forgivable. This is a movie made for cable, to be turned on halfway through, half paid attention to, then forgotten in half a second. Is that enough for a recommendation? No. But it’s just close enough to be frustrating.