How does one evaluate the successful exercise of a familiar formula? The Hitman’s Bodyguard is so formulaic—and so completely unsurprising in the ways it ably fulfills every requirement of the buddy-action-comedy genre—that it’s both a great movie and a terrible movie. Like a meal at the Cheesecake Factory, it is filling and unsatisfying. One can’t help but mourn how little The Hitman’s Bodyguard tries when even just a few sparks of inspiration could have elevated it to something special. Even the title is desperately unimaginative.
Thirty years ago, a movie like this would have arrived with a title like Cruel Target or Maximum Weapon. They probably would have found someone a little more grizzled for the white-guy character; The Hitman’s Bodyguard has Ryan Reynolds. He’s supposed to be a world-weary “executive protection agent” who’s lost his girlfriend and his career after a botched job, but whenever he grimaces—which he does a lot, provoked either by feelings or bullets—he merely looks bummed, like a guy who just woke up after a frat party with dicks drawn on his face.
Samuel L. Jackson, on the other hand, is fun (if not exactly credible) as an assassin who’s slated to testify in international court against a Belarusian dictator (Gary Oldman). Reynolds is assigned to get Jackson from Manchester to the Hague, as Oldman’s henchman and Interpol agents try and stop them. The European backdrop is a welcome twist on this very American recipe, although it ends up basically being a non-element.
Jackson and Reynolds’ banter gets better as the movie goes along, and the action sequences, while by and large unintelligible, gain a certain over-the-top momentum; the best one depicts a speedboat-motorcycle-car chase along a canal in Amsterdam. And Salma Hayek makes the most of her role as Jackson’s jailbird wife, even if all she is required to do is swear loudly and extravagantly.
You’ll probably enjoy The Hitman’s Bodyguard just fine when you stumble across it on TV during a rainy Saturday. (The movie might even be funnier if its curse-strewn dialogue gets bleeped for basic cable.) It’s not a bad movie. It’s just there, like food, waiting to be ingested, processed, crapped out, and forgotten about.