I have no memory of The Hitman’s Bodyguard. I know nothing about it, I never saw it, and I never heard a thing about it since the film released in September of 2017. Hell, it was a September release — those are practically made to be forgettable post-summer palate cleansers.
Wikipedia tells me that the film came out to a lukewarm critical reception, and it had the good fortune to come out at the lowest-grossing holiday weekend since 1998. That was enough for the film to hit #1 on its opening weekend, on its way to making $75.5 million domestic ($176.6 million worldwide). Those would be pretty sad numbers for a huge franchise vehicle starring Ryan Reynolds and Samuel L. Jackson, but they’re actually pretty good numbers for a September release with an estimated $69 million budget.
So here we are with The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard, a sequel nobody asked for, that was in no way marketed as a sequel, for a movie that nobody remembers.
Our premise begins in Greece, which has been subject to crippling economic EU sanctions for reasons that are never explained. Enter Aristotle Papadopoulos (Antonio Banderas playing a Greek. Freaking seriously.), who’s a… terrorist? Politician? Deranged billionaire? Hell if I know. Point is, he’s a bad guy who wants to restore Greece to its former place at the center of Western civilization. He plans to do this with a devastating cyber-attack that will leave Greece untouched while destroying power plants through all the rest of Europe.
Meanwhile, Michael Bryce (Ryan Reynolds) is a disgraced bodyguard whose license is under review after a high-profile client got killed on his watch. In preparation for his upcoming hearing, Bryce goes to the world’s worst therapist (played by Rebecca Front), who counsels him to go on sabbatical in Italy just to get him out of her office.
Long story short, Bryce is once again unwittingly entangled with the hitman Darius Kincaid and his con-artist wife, Sonia (Samuel L. Jackson and Salma Hayek, reprising their roles). A few more convoluted shenanigans later, and the three of them are intercepted by put-upon Interpol Agent Bobby O’Neill (Frank Grillo) and pressganged into helping stop Aristotle.
Oh, and Morgan Freeman is in the movie. No, I’m not telling you anything about who he’s playing.
The first and last thing to know about this movie is that everyone’s an asshole. This is 90 solid minutes of people screaming and cursing and laughing at each other’s suffering as they try to kill each other with guns and high explosives. These characters are all defiantly one-dimensional and aggressively unlikeable, on top of the fact that they all clearly hate each other, and that makes it very difficult to enjoy spending time with any of them.
Granted, the film does make a token effort at making the characters sympathetic. There’s an emphasis on themes of parenting and family, as Darius and Sonia are heavily preoccupied with their efforts at having a child, and Michael has some parental issues to sort through as well. But even then, it doesn’t connect because Darius and Sonia’s longing for a child is mostly expressed through a cavalcade of tasteless sex jokes. As for Michael, his family trauma is presented with cartoonish glee, played for laughs in a way that directly undercuts the pathos.
Ultimately, the film only has one setting: Eleven. The filmmakers cranked up every knob as far as it could go before tearing it off. In theory, that’s not necessarily a bad approach to an action comedy, as “over-the-top” is a time-honored approach to both action and comedy. And it certainly helps that the film is anchored by such talents as Ryan Reynolds, Salma Hayek, Samuel L. Jackson, and Antonio Banderas, all of whom are well-practiced at mugging for the camera and playing to the cheap seats. In particular, Reynolds, Jackson, and Hayek go through the whole damn movie like they’re fighting each other for the last scrap of undigested scenery.
In practice, however, it gets exhausting very quickly. In fact, huge stretches of the film were nothing short of painful. The only reason why the joke works at all is because the characters are so paper-thin and unsympathetic that we don’t mind watching them cuss each other out. But the joke gets old very quickly. A moviegoer can only take so much cussing and screaming packed into 90 minutes.
Likewise, the over-the-top action can only be appreciated because nobody would mind watching these characters getting beaten to a pulp. Trouble is, the action is only funny if the characters all walk away from their physical abuse without a scratch. And after Bryce walks away from his third high-velocity automobile impact — to say nothing of the point-blank minigun shot to the chest that he survives because of magic Kevlar — the action loses all impact. And again, it certainly doesn’t help that the story is treated as an afterthought at best.
Also, the climax has got some problems. I was disappointed to see Bryce and Darius get fight scenes with high-level antagonists while Sonia was tasked with taking out a nameless female sub-boss. Also, there are some pretty glaring cuts made in a pathetically obvious attempt at hiding the stunt doubles.
(Side note: It took me a while to recognize one of the lead henchmen as Tom Hopper, late of “Black Sails”. He did a good job in this one, and I’m genuinely glad to see that he’s still getting work.)
The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard is loud, flashy, crass, profane, obnoxious, outlandish, hollow, brain-dead, and utterly pointless. I’ll happily grant that there’s a place in the world for action comedies that are so aggressively crude, and I have to grant the film some measure of respect for knowing exactly what it wants to be and achieving that goal with no fucks given. And yes, a lot of the film’s appeal comes from Reynolds, Jackson, and Hayek all playing to their respective wheelhouses.
Even so, there are so many better movies out there that scratch the same itch just fine. Reynolds isn’t doing anything here that he didn’t already do a hundred times better as Deadpool. Jackson has made has made roughly umpteen million action films and/or comedies in this vein. If you want to see Hayek mug for the camera, try any of the other comedies she’s made in recent years.
If all you’re looking for is a disposable 90-minute film to pass the time, this one will admittedly do the job just fine, but there are so many better options out there to choose from. And anyway, if this is how far the filmmakers had to stretch the joke for a second movie, I don’t want to know how far they’d have to go to try and keep this fresh for a third one.
Bottom line: Quit trying to make this into a bankable franchise. It ain’t happening.