If you’re the kind of person who thinks the mere utterance of the F-word is cause for a chuckle, then rush out to your local multiplex and buy a ticket for The Hitman’s Bodyguard, an action “comedy” whose entire sense of humor is predicated on the idea that nothing is more amusing than watching two actors (in this case, Ryan Reynolds and Samuel L. Jackson) try to rattle off more profanity-laced insults than the other. Neither Reynolds nor Jackson are working outside their comfort zones here, essentially playing exaggerated versions of their usual onscreen selves – the same personalities we’re used to, but complemented by a lethal set of combat skills.
Reynolds stars as Michael Bryce, a former “Triple-A rated” personal security specialist whose career has taken a serious nosedive after his last high-profile client took a bullet through the forehead. His longtime rival, a notorious contract killer named Darius Kinkaid (Jackson), is being transported through Europe to testify against a brutal dictator from Belarus (Gary Oldman), but when the operation is compromised from within Michael’s ex-girlfriend, rising Interpol agent Amelia Roussel (Elodie Yung), recruits him to smuggle Darius safely out of the country – a mission he initially balks at until Amelia promises to reinstate his “Triple-A” status, whatever the hell that means.
What follows is a tiresome loop of Michael trying to keep Darius out of harm’s way, while Darius tries to slip out of Michael’s custody and eliminate the endless parade of mercenaries hired to keep them from reaching the courtroom before the (completely arbitrary) deadline of 5pm the following day. Throughout it all, Michael and Darius bicker incessantly, trading insults and put-downs of ever-increasing vulgarity that ceases to be amusing before the first conversation has even concluded, and by the end of the film has grown positively grating. When Michael complains to a bartender that Darius has single-handedly ruined the word “motherf**ker,” it’s very difficult to argue with that sentiment.
Sophomoric sense of humor notwithstanding, The Hitman’s Bodyguard features a surprising number of competent action sequences, including an elaborate multi-level pursuit through Amsterdam where Michael careens through the streets on a motorcycle while Darius zips along the city’s waterways in a stolen speedboat, both trying to outrun the heavily armed gunmen in SUVs that are hot on their trail. It’s the kind of large-scale setpiece you would expect to find in the Bourne series, and the film’s periodic firefights and fisticuffs are similarly engaging – although the violence is far more graphic than one might expect, given that this is (allegedly) a comedy.
With its A-list cast, which also includes Salma Hayek in a brief role as the angry, incarcerated wife of Darius, The Hitman’s Bodyguard should have been a much better film, and might have fared better as a more traditional action flick with occasional moments of levity – something along the lines of Die Hard or Lethal Weapon. But the over-reliance on vulgarity to elicit laughs robs the film of any true comedy, and the action – impressive though it may be – isn’t enough to sustain interest for the inflated two-hour running time.