.Review: ‘The Hitman’s Bodyguard’

The new Ryan Reynolds and Samuel L. Jackson feature is a ridiculous blockbuster

Samuel L. Jackson only seems to get better with age.

There’s no other word for The Hitman’s Bodyguard than garbage. But it’s not a failure; it does what it was intended to do, which is to give a showcase to Samuel L. Jackson. The best-paid actor in the movies today turns 70 next year.

Here he is called Kincaid, a sure-shot assassin of some 250 kills; he must beat a preposterous ticking clock to get to the World Court in The Hague so he can testify against a Slavic tyrant named Vladislav Dukhovich (Gary Oldman). Kincaid calls him “Dookie.”

It was decided that Oldman needed help being evil—that’s an example of the kind of calculations made in The Hitman’s Bodyguard—so they gave him some kind of spackle-makeup, allegedly the result of dioxin poisoning. The film is a comparison of textures; Oldman is all lumps and bumps, and Jackson is sleek as an eel. The latter’s helmetlike shiny dome, the hooded eyes, the death’s-head smile are on display as expected. But he never gets enough props as a funny actor. Jackson likes to go big. Would that his haters would go home.

A Charles Grodin-ish Ryan Reynolds is Michael Bryce, a top-of-the-line security person in a shiny suit. He has one bad day involving a client named Kurosawa. Two years later, Bryce is a mook, having to languish in a shabby car in London outside of the latest corporate pickup. (Bryce’s package here is Richard E. Grant, who gives five good minutes imitating the terrified Sylvester Pussycat).

Interpol has been keeping Kincaid’s angry wife (Salma Hayek) on ice in Amsterdam, as a way of manipulating him into cooperation. After an initial mixed-martial arts fight to clear the air, Bryce and Kincaid do the Planes, Trains and Automobiles thing from the UK to Holland. A thousand armed and muscular Bulgarians, convoying in Escalades behind them.

The visuals are smeary. Except for the aerial establishing shots, it’s rare that you can see about 20 feet into the frame, and the color is tarted up so that sidewalk baskets of begonias are a sort of a flame-thrower scarlet red. Director Patrick Hughes (Expendables 3) weaves a divorce-movie mood in which every woman in the film hates every man. (Reynolds blames his loss of status on his ex-wife, who he’s sure ruined the Kurosawa assignment.) In her cell, Sonia fulminates about Kincaid (“He’s like a cockroach, and I mean that in all senses of the word.”) The Latin spitfire act amuses, as always, but there’s a fat girl inmate being cornered in Salma’s cell for no reason, except that it’s supposedly hilarious when fat girls whimper.

Jackson displays not a shred of contempt for the redundant, faded or low parts of the show, nor is there a hint of distaste for the moments where he gives Bryce some life lessons in between the death lessons. In a flashback, he wears a $500 Aloha shirt, slow dancing with Salmita in a roughhouse bar in Honduras, while everything is blowing up or on fire. He tries to infuriate the uptight Bryce by singing in the car. That’s the miracle of Jackson. He’s both an unlikely star and a serious one. The manic actor has become trustworthy and wise. And still the profanity rolls off his tongue. “This man has ruined the word ‘motherfucker,'” Bryce whines.

Cinema excels in small, clear gestures, the subtle transition, the shock of recognition. This movie, though, is more the kind where you have a matching shot between a car on fire incinerating its driver, and a broiler full of flaming hamburgers. But there’s something to be said of an actor with a taste for roaring and thundering, for wigs, scars, canes. This living manifestation of a cinematic art in its decadent stage amazes with his supernatural confidence. He sells the fantasy that a man might kill hundreds and not care a bit. As always, shit doesn’t stick to Samuel L.

The Hitman’s Bodyguard
R; 111 Mins.


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