Don’t pretend you don’t know who Ryan Reynolds is. Don’t even think about denying you don’t find him charming. This is the man who made Deadpool finally happen, after all. So what’s he like in a normal acting role? In a more straightforward comedy affair, where it’s not all about him? Turns out, not as funny.
The Hitman’s Bodyguard is the story of Michael Bryce, a no nonsense ‘executive protection agent’ with a loving wife and a job he both loves and is brilliant at. That is, until his client gets shot in the head through the window of a private jet. Two years later, he has gone from escorting the richest of the rich to being a chauffeur for coke addicts who are behind on their payments (this particular coke addict being Richard E Grant, which is always fun). After the lighthearted introduction to Bryce, we’re taken to Belarus, and made to watch as its president, Vladislav Dukhovich (Gary Oldman), murders a man’s family because he spoke ill of him. Um, okay?
Dukhovich, it seems, is on trial for his crimes, but the witnesses are both failing to provide legitimate evidence against him. To return home alive. The last witness available is Darius Kincaid (Samuel L Jackson), who offers his testimony in exchange for his wife’s freedom from prison. Bryce is called in to escort him to the Netherlands after Dukhovich’s goons try to have him eliminated. He’s called in, by the way, by his ex-wife Emilia (Elodie Yung), who works for Interpol and is hated by Bryce for… some reason. He claims time and time again that she ‘sold him out’ after his client was assassinated but it’s never made clear exactly how that works. Either way, the boring love interest is established in between a few boring actions scenes, and Bryce and Kincaid are now on their way to Amsterdam.
Michael Bryce has a motto for his line of work; ‘boring is best’. Makes sense when you’re trying to keep people alive, but it doesn’t make for particularly interesting action scenes. A little bit of excitement is pulled out of Kincaid’s no-holds barred approach being contrasted by Bryce’s ever-present safety, but that’s it. The first half of the film is a deliberate, but misguided, attempt to hold its main characters back. That’s just the first half; a very brief but hilarious scene involving a bus full of nuns marks a shift in tone, and from there the film mostly carries on up.
The biggest problem with the opening act of the film is how hard it tries to be so many different things. Trailers sell it as a lighthearted Ryan Reynolds vehicle, but the jokes don’t start being funny until after the aforementioned nuns. The action sequences try to sell the film as a Mission Impossible style movie, but the action just isn’t interesting enough for that. And the inclusion of Oldman’s Russian antagonist just doesn’t sit well enough with the film’s lighter elements to provide any solid menace. But after the nuns, things change; the action gets better as it embraces a more slapstick and over-the-top approach, and the comedy sharpens as the chemistry between Reynolds and Jackson gets an opportunity to shine. In one inspired moment, Bryce laments to a bartender about the frustration Kincaid causes him, while Kincaid wreaks havoc on the streets behind him. It’s actually enough to save the film, and by the time the credits roll it feels like it was worth the watch. You’d probably have more fun watching Deadpool, but The Hitman’s Bodyguard has enough to keep one satisfied —eventually.