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‘The Hitman’s Bodyguard’ misses the mark

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Action comedy can’t quite strike the proper balance

Action comedy is one of those things that looks relatively easy to pull off on paper. People like jokes. People like explosions. People like slapstick and gunfights. So obviously, they’re going to like all of those things together.

But it’s rarely that simple.

Don’t get me wrong. Making an action comedy probably isn’t that tough. Making a GOOD action comedy, well – that’s something altogether different. Striking the proper balance between the high-octane and the humorous is extremely tricky.

It’s a trick that “The Hitman’s Bodyguard,” the new film starring Ryan Reynolds and Samuel L. Jackson, ultimately proves unable to pull off.

Reynolds is Michael Bryce, a high-end professional bodyguard devoted to maintaining the safety of the richest of the rich. But when one of his clients meets a jarringly unexpected and unfortunate end, his reputation – and his business – goes down the tubes. Two years later, he’s taken a considerable fall down the security food chain, protecting a much less notable brand of unsavory clientele. But there’s an unlikely chance at redemption coming his way.

His ex-girlfriend Amelia Roussel (Elodie Yung, TV’s “Daredevil”) is an Interpol agent charged with a particularly difficult assignment. She is to bring imprisoned assassin Darius Kincaid (Samuel L. Jackson, “Kong: Skull Island”) to The Hague so that he might serve as the key witness in the war crimes trial of ousted Belarusian president Vladislav Dukhovich (Gary Oldman, “The Space Between Us”).

Of course, Dukhovich still has plenty of power – power that he will use to eliminate Kincaid and anyone else that stands in the way of his ultimate acquittal due to lack of hard evidence.

Roussel’s convoy is viciously, ruthlessly attacked by mercenary forces; only she and Kincaid are able to escape. With an obvious leak in the agency’s pipeline, she’s left with no choice but to recruit Bryce to help protect Kincaid, dangling the carrot of a restoration of his high-end status to get him to agree.

Of course, Bryce and Kincaid have a bit of a history – one that involves a lot of cross purposes and at least one gunshot wound – so this is a less than ideal situation for them both. Bryce’s by-the-book rigidity clashes with Kincaid’s easygoing improvisation, resulting in an interpersonal conflict that is almost as big an obstacle as the waves of armed henchmen Dukhovich has sent to murder them.

With just hours before the brutal strongman goes free, Bryce and Kincaid must find a way to get past the forces conspiring to kill them – and to get along with each other.

“The Hitman’s Bodyguard” plays out precisely the way you think it does. The banter is familiar, the action sequences are workmanlike. The “twists” are telegraphed and the narrative is utterly devoid of surprises. It’s a reasonably well-made movie, but there’s literally nothing new here.

Not that the lack of newness should be all that surprising. Director Patrick Hughes previously had just one major feature to his credit … and it’s the third “Expendables” movie. Screenwriter Tom O’Connor’s lone other writing credit is 2012’s forgettable “Fire with Fire.” This is not a team that is going to dazzle with cinematic inventiveness.

As for the cast, well … it is what it is. My general disdain for Ryan Reynolds (“Deadpool” notwithstanding) is well-documented at this point – and this film does little to alleviate that, though I’ll admit he has certainly been worse. Samuel L. Jackson definitely coasts on his persona here; he’s reached the point where he saves his real efforts for projects that mean something to him. The two of them are OK together – there are a few laughs to be had – but what charm they do generate is far from enough to buoy the rest of the proceedings. We do get a solid scenery-gnawing performance from Oldman, who clearly loves doing this stuff and is having more fun than anybody. Yung’s is a thankless role, but she gives it her all and manages to occasionally come off as engaging. Salma Hayek (“How to Be a Latin Lover”) steals a couple of scenes as Kincaid’s imprisoned wife; the rest of the cast is generally faceless and forgettable, existing only to advance the action.

(This is where I feel it necessary to note that in many ways, this film feels like a comedic remake of the 2012 film “Safe House,” which featured Reynolds as a CIA agent tasked with protecting Denzel Washington from mercenaries trying to kill him. It’s like the elevator pitch for this new movie was “Like ‘Safe House,’ only funny and with Samuel L. Jackson.”)

“The Hitman’s Bodyguard” is the sort of movie you see a lot in mid-August, a film intended for bigger things, but whose execution wound up falling short. And so, into the dumping ground it went. It’s not a terrible film, but you get the impression that it failed to live up to initial expectations.

[2 out of 5]

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