As the summer doldrums descend upon us with the impending change of the seasons, it is reassuring Hollywood has produced a genuinely entertaining action comedy to tide us over until the major Thanksgiving and Christmas releases. Ryan Reynolds and Samuel L. Jackson make a charismatic combo with no love lost for each other in the fast-paced but formulaic thriller “The Hitman’s Bodyguard” (***1/2 out of ****) co-starring Gary Oldman and Salma Hayek. “Expendables 3” director Patrick Hughes proves not only that he can orchestrate some extraordinary stunts involving vehicular mayhem on a modest $30-million budget, but he also gets inspired performances from his gifted cast. Indeed, you’ve seen variations of “The Hitman’s Bodyguard” many times before in road pictures about mismatched heroes, such as the two “48 HRS” movies, “The Rundown,” “The Rookie,” the “Rush Hour” trilogy, the “Lethal Weapon” series, “The Nice Guys,” and “Midnight Run.” This adrenalin-laced saga benefits from catchy dialogue courtesy of “Fire with Fire” scenarist Tim O’Connor who gives everybody quotable lines peppered with flavorful profanity as well as a plot sizzling with surprises galore. Of course, you know Ryan Reynolds is going to deliver Samuel L. Jackson as a witness to testify against villainous Gary Oldman before the deadline when the latter can be cleared off all charges against his murderous Eastern European regime. The destination isn’t as much a revelation as the rollercoaster ride that everybody takes to arrive there in the nick of time. All too often movies like “The Hitman’s Bodyguard” lose steam somewhere in the middle, but Australian director Patrick Hughes maintains the momentum throughout its 118 minutes. The gauntlet that our bickering heroic pair must negotiate keeps challenging them right up until to the last second. Happily, the gals in this slam-bang, grudge match aren’t destitute damsels-in-distress, but babes that can shoot straight, smash testicles with their feet, and rival the guys with their profanity. Clearly, sensitive souls searching for philosophical insights about life’s mysteries should shun this implausible but entertaining nonsense.
Debonair Michael Bryce (Ryan Reynolds of “Deadpool”) is at the top of his game as an elite triple-A bodyguard who will shield any scoundrel who can afford his services. Bryce knows all the tricks of the trade. As “The Hitman’s Bodyguard” unfolds, our clean-shaven, well-dressed, suit and tie executive has escorted a notorious Japanese arms dealer, Kurosawa (Tsuwayuki Saotome of “London Has Fallen”), to the airport to bid him farewell when a random shot out of the blue obliterates the arms dealer as the latter is peering out the window of his jet at Bryce. Our protagonist is stunned beyond expression and watches as his bodyguard service folds. Initially, Bryce blames his girlfriend, Interpol Agent Amelia Roussel (Elodie Yung of “Gods of Egypt”), for her lack of discretion. Michael believes Amelia leaked word about the Japanese arms dealer’s presence. They separate over this breach. Meantime, genocidal Belarusian dictator Vladislav Dukhovich (Gary Oldman of “True Romance”), is on trial at The Hague in the Netherlands for international human rights violations. As the trial winds down to its inevitable conclusion, the prosecution cannot seem to keep its’ witnesses alive long enough for them to testify. The last man scheduled to take the stand against Dukhovich is the world’s deadliest hitman, Darius Kincaid (Samuel L. Jackson of “Pulp Fiction”), who refused an offer from him. Simply said, Kincaid doesn’t murder innocent women and children. He has irrefutable evidence which will seal Dukhovich’s fate. Basically, Kincaid has cut a deal with the prosecutor to talk if she will release his wife, Sonia Kincaid (Salma Hayek of “Everly”), from an Amsterdam prison. As Kincaid later tells Sonia, he doesn’t care if they send him to prison because there isn’t a prison secure enough to hold him.
Interpol sets out to haul Kincaid from Manchester, England, under a heavily armed guard to The Hague. An informer within the ranks, however, tips off Dukhovich’s top assassin, Ivan (Yuri Kolokolnikov of “Game of Thrones”), about the route. Ivan’s trigger-happy henchmen ambush the Interpol van and wipe out everybody but Amelia and Kincaid. Kincaid catches a slug in the leg before Amelia and he elude the killers. She escorts Kincaid to a safehouse where he digs the bullet out of his calf as if he were Sylvester Stallone’s John Rambo and bandages himself. Afterward, Kincaid refuses flatly to cooperate with Interpol. Reluctantly, Amelia swallows her pride and resorts to Michael for help. At first, he wants nothing to do with this suicidal kiss of death exercise. Nevertheless, he caves in to his desperate ex-girlfriend’s pleas. No sooner have Michael and Kincaid met than they are shoving pistols in each other’s faces. “My job is to keep you out of harm’s way,” Michael reminds Kincaid. “I am harm’s way,” Jackson retorts defiantly. Since his near miss with death during the ambush, Kincaid has gone to packing a pistol. As it turns out, Michael and Kincaid discover they are old adversaries, and they spend the rest of “The Hitman’s Bodyguard” swapping insults when they aren’t whittling down the army of gunmen that outnumbers them.
“The Hitman’s Bodyguard” wallows in everything action movie fans crave. Director Patrick Hughes knows better than to let the expository dialogue scenes interfere with the plethora of shooting and killing. The body count escalates into double-digits, and Kincaid himself knocks off almost thirty gunmen. Although our heroes cannot perish, life is hardly a picnic as they dodge one barrage after another. Half of the time, Kincaid and Michael are working against each other. For example, Kincaid stomps the brakes during a careening car chase and a surprised Michael performs a header through the windshield but regains his footing without missing a stride. Ironically, the relationship between them improves as the odds against their survival worsen. Meanwhile, Gary Oldman arouses our wrath as an appropriately despicable villain who kills without a qualm. Villains must be hard-boiled in thrillers. Despite its familiarity, “The Hitman’s Bodyguard” delivers everything that makes an action movie unforgettable!