Monday, 18 September 2017

Movie Review: The Hitman's Bodyguard (2017)



The plot: Disgraced bodyguard Michael (Ryan Reynolds) has been tasked with protecting hitman Darius Kincaid (Samuel L. Jackson), a key witness in the criminal trial against dictator Vladislav Dukhovich (Gary Oldman). As they try and manoeuvre their way to the courthouse, they have to deal with Dukhovich’s hired goons, the local police and even each other to make it there in one piece.


Given the story, I’m kind of surprised that the cast list is as high-profile as it is. I’m also rather grateful because this is the kind of acting designed to save otherwise lacklustre productions. Reynolds, playing somewhat against type as the by-the-book and overly prepared protection agent, gets some good quips in and his handling of the action scenes is at the level I’d expect from a guy who’s pretty much taken his role as Deadpool as far into the real world as humanly possible. Jackson, having past experience in buddy action fare, is a very snug fit next to Reynolds, and along with some pitch-perfect delivery of his dialogue, his banter and rapport with Reynolds helps a lot of this film’s weaker moments. Salma Hayek as Mrs. Kincaid feels like the kind of role Robert Rodriguez would have written for her back in the day, full of Latin spice and more balls than any man she comes into contact with, Mr. Kincaid included. Richard E. Grant, in an unfortunately small role, definitely leaves a lasting impression as the hyper-paranoid cokehead client, hinting at some of the themes of preparation and the surrounding chaos that would get elaborated on further down the line. Honestly, the only real low point here is from Oldman as the genocidal dictator. After seeing him handle kooky and positively psychotic villains in films past like True Romance and even The Fifth Element, the lack of screen time combined with his way-too-dignified performance makes what could have been a fun antagonist into little more than a footnote. But hey, at least he got to stab a guy through his hand with a pen; that’s the least I would ask.

Last time we checked in with producer Millennium Films, it was with the woefully racist and wilfully hateful London Has Fallen. To say this film is familiar because of that is both under and overstating things as, while this only has traces of that same brand of xenophobia, the plot itself is very familiar. Millennium Films, or rather their parent company Nu Image, was one of the bigger companies involved in lower-quality action thrillers back in the day. This is the same company behind Cyborg Cop and Shark Attack, and the fact that those films spawned trilogies should give you some idea of their modus operandi. Sadly, this is no different: Plot involving foreign relations so that the Amurricans can save the day, heavy emphasis on action setpieces as opposed to the story connecting them, filming in Eastern European countries to minimize costs, and that’s just the overview.
The actual film itself, within the realms of buddy action movies, is so played-out and so recycled that I’m willing to bet most audiences will be able to predict most if not all of the ‘bigger’ developments well ahead of time. Add to this the rather glitchy filmmaking, with some of the most obvious green-screening I’ve seen in a while for a character just standing in one place while they monologue, and the painfully clichéd music selections that make the admittedly sweet romantic moments feel outright painful to sit through, and you have a film that frankly needs charismatic actors to help salvage it. Honestly, if it weren’t for Reynolds and Jackson carrying the entire film on the back of their back-and-forth bickering, this would easily qualify as yet another film that in no way is cinema-grade.

Okay, maybe not entirely because of them. After all, this film’s script landed on the Black List back in 2011, along with Django Unchained, The Accountant and Saving Mr. Banks; someone must have seen something in all this beyond just standard action thriller shenanigans. Even considering this is the same director who gave us the incredibly misguided Expendables 3, a film that soiled the term “new blood” for any future use, I’ll admit that there does seem to be at least something going on aside from the obvious. Reynolds’ place in the film as the overcautious protector starts out passé enough, until it clicks in that his status as ‘the safe one’ is heavily at odds with everyone else. This is where the buddy dynamic between Reynolds and Jackson turns a bit interesting: The former does everything he can to prepare for shit to hit the fan, while the latter just rolls with what everyone else around him is doing and acts before the shit is even thrown. The best laid plans only work out if everyone involved follows it, and in this movie, pretty much the only person following the rules is Reynolds. Everyone else is the middle of utter chaos, with both the police and Dukhovich’s goons chasing after our leads and no matter how Reynolds tries to set precautions in place, it rarely works out well for him.

This subtext turns into straight-up text as the main relationship fully blooms and Jackson essentially tells the audience all of this upfront, but at the same time, I can still see the merit in it. Given the near-constant shaky-cam, the grisly blood and broken bones that the camera doesn’t exactly shy away from, and the frenzied action scenes that, while clichéd, still hold up to some scrutiny, it seems at least director Patrick Hughes had an idea on how to present this. Then again, I can’t help but appreciate the irony involved in my own attempts to watch this movie: After my expected public transport just plain didn’t show-up, after already buying my ticket, I went and saw later in the day only to try and get on the bus home… and being the only guy who couldn’t fit on-board. Kind of difficult for me not to see the poignancy in saying that even the best of plans don’t always work out.

All in all, a commendable cast, a decent approach to the action scenes and a few traces of subtextual commentary help elevate this otherwise disposable action thriller to being at least watchable. I’m not exactly chomping at the bit to tell others to go see this movie, but if someone decided to, I can at least see how they would enjoy it for what it is. With how high the pedigree for action films has been this year so far, this will definitely fall through the cracks though. It’s better than Fist Fight, which may have a far superior soundtrack (in terms of licensed music, at the very least) but wasn’t nearly this easy to sit through thanks to the main performances. However, while I give some credit to this film for parts of its writing, it still doesn’t really salvage anything. The Circle, by contrast, has a script that holds a lot more promise and just a touch more of it actually gets delivered on.

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