The other day I was wondering why they don’t make those sort of mid-budget movies that are fun and silly but are never really ever destined for cinematic superstardom. Films like 48 Hours or Midnight Run or Convoy or Romancing the Stone etc. Solid entertainment, acting and storytelling, but lacking that X-Factor that transforms some cheap-ass script into a franchise. Now there’s nothing wrong with just wanting to make a good movie. It’s just these days it’s all about the expanded universe. The sequels. The bigger picture. There’s no room for those “blue collar” flicks of old. Or so I thought. The Hitman’s Bodyguard proved me wrong.
Ryan Reynolds plays Michael Bryce but may as well be playing himself, Ryan Reynolds (Smokin’ Aces), because he starts out exactly how we’d expect Ryan Reynolds to be like. He’s rich, successful etc. The opening montage is him leaving some babe in his rad pad all dressed in some snazzy grey Ryan Reynolds suit. He’s heading off to work in his cool classic car with a smile on his face. He’s a UK-based high end private security organizer/bodyguard, hired to protect a Japanese arms dealer called Kurosawa (a name likely to make the eyes twitch of any watching cineaste).
Now Mike isn’t like your average Joe bodyguard. He is triple A rated (the A standing for Ass as in his ass between his client and a bullet). He has all the angles covered. He has a legion of armed dudes wearing those little ear peaces and sharp suits with cool little radios in the cuff-links. Everything he does is meticulously planned and coordinated. Nothing is left to chance. His motto is to be boring and to be careful. And he loves his job. He loves being good at what he does and having a perfect rep without any pesky blemishes. So his whole world comes crashing down when Kurosawa’s head is blown off through a C-cup titty sized plane window just as he’s departing Old Blighty back to Japan.
Thanks to his blunder, he’s busted down to protecting coke-head businessmen and other marginal targets for small change and even smaller self respect. His current client is a paranoid freak banker type, played by Richard E. Grant (Bram Stoker’s Dracula). But his fears are sort of justified as Mike has to take out like six guys to get him out of his building alive. This felt a bit odd because having to twat some special ops assassins so readily would kind of indicate that he was really needed by Grant. I think it would have made more sense if the dude was just totally crazy and wasting everyone’s time. Plus, there’s no callback to the character later. He just sort of gets Grant out of there and it’s over. Perhaps he could have helped in one particular way or other that sort of draws him into the plot later? Instead he’s there only to demonstrate that Mike’s clients are no longer top of the line celebrity or billionaire types. It’s a bit of waste for such a great actor, but hey you can’t win them all.
Basically Mike has hit rock bottom, living out of his tiny little car, and trying to forgive his ex-gf Amelia (Elodie Yung – Gods of Egypt) for getting Kurosawa killed and ruining his life. A rising star in Interpol (that’s the European FBI for you US sorts), Amelia was the only person Mike had told about his client. See he never mixed business and pleasure, so it clearly must have been her who spilled the beans, right?
Regardless of some bitter ex-boyfriend shit, Amelia has her own present day problems. There’s is some dirt bag called Vladislav Dukhovich (Gary Oldman – Leon) who is the President of Belarus and as a Russian in this sort of film, he’s naturally been doing some nasty stuff. We get a fitting “just how evil is this bastard scene” where he murders the family of some journalist who criticized his regime, then we cutely segue into a courtroom where he’s being tried for even more crimes against humanity stuff. But all the witnesses are dead so it’s not like they have any evidence against him. Just bodies.
So it’s likely he’s gonna go free. In fact I don’t see how they even got him to trial. They (Amelia and her buddies) just sort of have him in The Hague at the International Criminal Court so he can sneer at them in Russian, saying stuff like “You have no evidence, ha ha ha”. We all know that where there’s smoke there’s fire. Motherfucker was Dracula! But that kind of speculation don’t cut it in any of the court room films that I ever saw.
Pity for him that one witness is still alive.
Banged up in Manchester is the internationally renowned hitman Darius Kincaid (Samuel L. Jackson – The Negotiator). He did a ton of work for Dukhovich and likely other nefarious tycoon types – Vilos Cohaagen, Arius and the Asian Dawn all being likely candidates. While he’s pretty zen about being locked up for the rest of his natural, he’s sore about his beloved wife Sonia (Salma Hayek – Desperado) getting busted as an accomplice. While most likely true, it still bums him out that they’re never gonna see each other again. She totally blames him too. As any wife would.
So Amelia and her Interpol boss Jean Foucher (Joaquim de Almeida – Desperado) agree to release Sonia for Kincaid’s testimony. It’s mighty fucking white of them, considering she’s innocent. The only problem is how they’re gonna get him there. Dukhovich has a known habit of making any of his dissenters disappear, usually in multiple bloody pieces. He’s a Belarusian after all – they don’t mess about. All kinds of crazy specimens come out of Belarus. Just look at the state of Andrei Arlovski. Fucking Worf comes from Belarus. So if Dukhovich gets wind of any would-be witness, he’ll likely respond with a swift Russian pain train.
Flying Kincaid from Manchester to Holland is just too risky. They can’t afford the collateral damage of a whole passenger liner going down. They’re gonna have to do something way smaller. Kincaid is gonna be sitting duck regardless. But surely spending 20 hours driving him there couldn’t be the safest option, right? Any idiot can see that.
Unfortunately for Kincaid, and a whole host of Interpol solider types, that’s exactly what they’re gonna do.
At least the route of the armored convoy is a closely guarded secret. Shame one of the Interpol top brass is in league with Dukhovich and spills the beans. You guessed it, Foucher is in it for the money, and sells out Amelia, Kincaid and the whole gang. Damn that Former Soviet Union oil money is just too tempting.
When they’re least expecting it the convoy is intercepted by a murder-squad whilst driving through Coventry. Now for those who haven’t visited “the armpit of the midlands”, Coventry is a pretty non-descript English city. The closest anyone there has got to urban conflict is via one of the Call of Duty games. So it’s an unusual location for an armed assault. One-by-one the soldiers are picked off. Kincaid, wanting to die on his feet and not his ass, raids one of the bodies of his former minders and tells Amelia to cover him.
Now up until now we haven’t really been given a solid impression as to how badass Kincaid is. There’s no scene like in Con Air where some cops are talking kill count stats, preferred weapons or finishing moves. Instead, we have this scene as an introduction. Moving like a butterfly, he stings like a fucking wolverine, effortlessly killing the goons. It’s not quite Equilibrium levels of wicked hand-gun-kata play nor is it as brutal as John Wick, but it’s clear that Kincaid is pretty slick. Lots of slow-down-the-camera-then-speed-it-up sort of stuff, with Kincaid putting single slugs into people with super precision whilst everyone else is just ejaculating ammo wildly into the air. That sort of thing.
One beef I have with this film is that I still don’t buy that either Samuel L. or Reynolds are badasses. Yes, they’ve been in their fair share of awesome action classics. But Jackson is seldom the muscle or the kick-ass hero. He can handle himself sure, but he’s always gonna be the tech wizard or the sassy sarge or the loose cannon or that guy who sacrifices himself. He’s edgier than Eddie Murphy, but still has the same gift of the gab. He’d lose to the likes of Michael Jai White though. Same with Reynolds. Now you can stop slapping me with with your Deadpool-costumed fish. Sure that’s a badass character. But he’s wearing a mask. And like we all secretly realize that our Mum and Dad once had dirty dirty sex, we too know deep down that it’s a body double in that red suit, or more likely CGI doing all the ass-kicking. Again, I like the chap. But he’d lose an arm wrestling contest to Gerard Butler. And that’s what counts here.
Back to the action. During the scuffle, Kincaid takes a bullet in the leg. However both he and Amelia survive. She rushes him to some safe house they conveniently have lying around. There they deduce that it’s obvious that Dick-hovich has someone inside Interpol and that she has to get this sorted herself. Kincaid says just give him a gun and he’ll get himself to the trial. She can’t do that though. She’s already in the shit for letting so many police-types die. Instead she has another plan.
Obviously no one in Interpol, including herself, can be involved in the extraction of Kincaid to The Hague. She needs an outsider. Another player with the skill-set and the savy to pull off the job. She needs her ex, Mike Bryce.
Too bad he’s busy having his car decontaminated (smells too much of hobo ass). She dangles the carrot of future government contracts and the reinstatement of his beloved triple A rating, and he comes running. He’s none-to-pleased to see Kincaid though. Turns out they were old “work buddies”, with Kincaid trying to clip a whole variety of Mike’s former clients. 27 times he’s nearly killed Mike himself, 28 if you count that time in Prague.
Now here I initially thought that they hated each other because it was Kincaid who killed Kurosawa. When it’s revealed that they’re just talking about some other people I was all “Oh” and felt kind of let down. It just seemed so obvious a connection/callback, so when they do finally reveal that it WAS Kincaid who fired the bullet that send Mike to shitsville it really felt off and forced. They should have revealed that straight up. I get it, they needed to ramp up their increasing disdain for each other later in the movie, so they needed to save it. But come on guys, we all saw it coming.
After a violent tete-a-tete, they all agree to get along and do the job. Meanwhile, Foucher has twigged that someone is in the Coventry safe house and secretly signals for Duhkovich’s men to move in. Here things get a little silly where Kincaid, fresh off having the bullet removed from his leg, does some heroic leap out of the apartment and into a stairwell to pop a cap in some dudes head. It’s almost as silly as Noomi Rapace having an alien octopus removed via C-section then running half a league away from some giant, crashing doughnut in Prometheus. Seriously, it’s getting to the stage where only headshots are likely to cause any significant injury to people now in Hollywood. Kincaid’s mutant regeneration here is totally dumb. But we’ll get over it.
With the latest hit-team down, we settle in to the normal odd-couple travelling across the country affair. They bicker, squabble, get separated, come back together etc etc, and all the while learn to sort of like each other. But will Bryce get Kincaid to the
wedding trial on time? Or will Duhkovich’s men finally catch up to them and silence his one witness forever?
Despite some of the bitching above, I enjoyed The Hitman’s Bodyguard very much like how I’d enjoy a hearty pub meal. Sure it’s pretty much all fried up freezer bait, but it tastes good in the right proportions. While it didn’t blow my dazzling hair back or leave me pondering it for hours after, it did keep me off my phone, binge eating treats or making meaningful conversation with my significant other for two solid hours. And that’s what a good blue collar movie should do.
While the locations to a US audience may seem “exotic”, they’re really not. They’re the equivalent of the middle-American states. Cheap to film in, without any real restrictions of what you can do. Plus, a lot of these “Studio Canal” styled mid-budget actioners all seem to be coming out of Europe these days. Taken really set the standard, and the bigger studios like Lionsgate and Netflix in this case are really starting to run with it.
With a reported budget of only $30 million dollars, you’d expect the bulk of it went to the stars themselves. But that’s not to say the rest of the production is down and dirty. No sir. The cinematography is clear, the music decent, and the effects passable. While the eternal bane of my life, CGI squibs, are featured instead of the glorious physical effects, I’m gonna give it a pass this time. Look, it is pretty much Deadpool and Jules Winfield bantering for two hours, but the supporting structure is all strong enough to hold the weight.
You get some decent cameos from Grant and Hayek, whom is especially feisty. Oldman does the business as an accented dictator type. He’s Oldman doing what Oldman does best. It’s by no means the role of his career. Instead it’s more along the lines of his baddie in Book of Eli. Elodie Yung is emerging as a potential star to watch now she’s put some distance between her and Gods of Egypt. After appearing in the Netflix Daredevil series and it’s spin off, The Defenders (of the Earth?) I really hope a meatier action role is on the horizon for her.
Story wise we’re not really venturing to anywhere we haven’t been before. This is more a trip down to the local after work on a Friday. You have to appreciate that it’s not about some world ending crisis. Fucking hell, they could make a film about a child’s board game seem world ending these days (I mean you, Battleship). To be fair, The Hitman’s Bodyguard nearly gets too big for it’s boots by having a scumbag President on the stand, but I’m sure most people won’t know where the Hell Belarus is and instead just think it’s one of them insignificant Slavic countries. So it gets a pass for not being majorly significant on the world scale.
In all honestly it has no airs or graces. It doesn’t think above it’s station. There’s no deeper meaning or message I could decipher. Nor is it angling to set up a mega franchise or even a measly sequel. It’s just trying to entertain us. And Goddamn it we need to respect the shit out of films for trying to do that more often.
Major credit to director Patrick Hughes (Expendables 3) for pulling this one out of the bag. Rumour has it that a sequel is in the works, and hey, what the Hell, go for it. Either way, you can do a lot worse than giving The Hitman’s Bodyguard a try. Get it watched.