Suddenly in the mood for an antifascist exploitation comedy? 'Hitman's Bodyguard' nails it
Button-down security pro Ryan Reynolds protects unpredictable assassin Samuel L. Jackson in an up and down action comedy that has its moments.
Normally a movie like Hitman's Bodyguard would have me banging on about its ham-fisted mix of comedy and action, its tastelessness, its bloated length, and so forth.
But I have to say that viewing the movie in the wake of the Charlottesville debacle and its fallout was unexpectedly inspiring — these days, even the sophomoric spectacle of racial solidarity (uptight white dude bonds with freewheeling black dude) is better than nothing.
Way better. And its juvenile tone might actually connect with a young male demo that used to go to the movies, but lately has gone down the rabbit hole of poop-posting (that's my polite translation of the technical term) and meme-spreading. I read about some of them while seeking to understand events in Charlottesville, a search that led me to a Southern Poverty Law Center explainer on the Kekistan flag flown Saturday by a few alt-right marchers. Apparently, it's the facetious symbol of a facetious nation whose ostensible purpose is to troll literal-minded media types. Hilarious, except that the young woman and two state police officers killed in Charlottesville are not facetiously dead. (Nevertheless, somewhere, a giggling dweeb is high-fiving himself.)
This is an online culture I don't pretend to understand, beyond its deliberately slippery relationship with irony, and its net-fueled amplification of the adolescent male's fascination with chaos for its own sake. But in benign terms, these are young people with way too much time on their hands.
I direct their attention to Hitman's Bodyguard, an ultraviolent screwball Odd Couple featuring Ryan Reynolds (he does have a little Felix Unger in him) as the button-down security professional hired to protect a notorious assassin (Samuel L. Jackson) on his way to testify at the Hague against a murderous dictator (Gary Oldman).
Of course, the two are mismatched opposites — white and black, young and old, digital and analog, perfectionist planner and improvisational disrupter, etc. And of course they become buddies. It's an obvious formula, but when the movie sticks to it, it works well enough; Reynolds and Jackson have pretty decent chemistry.
As for Patrick Hughes' direction, it's every bit as good as it was in The Expendables 3. Sometimes, he forgets he's making a comedy, and the whimsical slaughter of the movie's massively long roster of henchmen can turn heavy-handed and rather ugly.
The highlight is Reynolds' facing off with the baddest of the bad in a hardware store, using the tools available to him (though I still prefer the Denzel Washington/Antoine Fuqua original, seen in The Equalizer).
Also, you can't go to this movie if you have a low tolerance for the F-word and its many variations. Jackson is an acknowledged maestro, but it's actually Salma Hayek who makes the biggest effing impression in this regard — she's cast as Jackson's imprisoned ex-wife, pretty and petite, yet improbably the baddest con in the joint.
At one point, Reynolds and Jackson join hands and arise from the table of brotherhood to perforate a neo-fascist's forehead with a nail gun. The crowd goes wild. Will it play in Kekistan? Surely. They're known, after all, for their sense of humor.
Directed by Patrick Hughes. With Samuel. L. Jackson, Ryan Reynolds, Gary Oldman, Salma Hayek, Elodie Yung, Joaquim de Almeida. Distributed by Summit Entertainment.
Running time: 1 hour, 41 mins.
Parent's guide: R (violence, language)
Playing at: Area theaters.