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Film Review: ‘The Hitman’s Bodyguard’

Ryan Reynolds and Samuel L. Jackson's foul-mouthed chemistry makes this high-concept action comedy a pleasant late-summer surprise.

 

“The Hitman’s Bodyguard” is about as close to a live-action cartoon as you’re likely to get this year — you know, the kind where someone blows a cannonball-shaped hole through Wile E. Coyote’s abdomen or a stick of dynamite reduces him to a pile of cinders, and the next thing you know, he’s up and chasing the Road Runner again. That’s not a style that works much of the time (see “Shoot ’Em Up” or early Arnold Schwarzenegger flop “The Villain”), but in the hands of “The Expendables 3” helmer Patrick Hughes — and more importantly, owing to the chemistry of stars Samuel L. Jackson and Ryan Reynolds — it makes for a delightfully ridiculous screwball action comedy.

 

 

It’s no small challenge to multi-task two romantic subplots while also trying to manage the already-combustible dynamic between Bryce and Kincaid, and yet, Hughes pulls it off, thanks to a wildly irreverent script credited to Tom O’Connor — only his second to be produced, though earlier thriller “Fire With Fire” offers zero trace of this film’s comic touch, suggesting the work of other, unsung contributors here.

Jackson and Reynolds come to the table with very distinct star personae, and it’s clear the foul-mouthed comedy went through a serious rewrite to fit its two leads. Take Bryce’s line, “This guy single-handedly ruined the word ‘motherfucker,’” used to describe a man who has elevated the expletive’s usage to an art (the way actor Clay Davis has cornered the long, drawn-out “sheeeee-it”). In a film that’s only so-so in the action department, the real fun comes from the incessant bickering between the two stars — which falls somewhere between “Bringing Up Baby” and the combative, high-attitude style of Shane Black buddy movies.

The rest is so over-the-top, the only way to play along is to treat it as an elaborate Roadrunner cartoon, where Kincaid can take a bullet to the leg, extract the bullet himself (a Rambo-era cliché meant to convey gritty realism amid completely unbelievable violence) and jump off a roof, without so much as limping. An early staircase shoot-out pales in comparison to last month’s “Atomic Blonde” (although this movie makes better use of ’80s songs), while other sequences are either too heavily computer-assisted or shot with blatant stunt doubles — as when Bryce wears his helmet for the entirety of a drawn-out motorcycle chase.

Another scene parodied over the end credits features an unflinching Reynolds superimposed against the Dutch capital, unfazed by the brutal bloodbath unfolding behind him. Did the actor even go to Amsterdam? That much isn’t clear, though the crew certainly did, with units in the Netherlands, Bulgaria and the U.K. lending great scenery and serious production value to one of Millennium Media’s all-time most entertaining actioners. Coming from a company known for pyrotechnic B movies, “The Hitman’s Bodyguard” is better than much costlier studio-backed equivalents (such as “The Mexican,” “The Bounty Hunter” and “This Means War”).

Plus, it comes with the added bonus of listening to Samuel L. Jackson sing the original (Oscar-eligible?) ditty “Nobody Gets Out Alive,” also featured over the closing credits. It’s a nice display of versatility from an actor who is very comfortably within his wheelhouse here, ultra-cool and cockroach-unkillable as he laughs off every scrape. Reynolds plays it cute, but Jackson steals the show, putting Bryce in his place with the existential question — the kind philosopher-hitman Jules Winnfield might have asked in “Pulp Fiction” — about which of the two men has chosen the more righteous path: “he who kills evil motherfuckers, or he who protects them