ENTERTAINMENT: The Hitman's Bodyguard Review
So, being a Regal Crown Club member, I got the unique opportunity to join a private, invitation-only screening of Patrick Hughes' latest action-comedy, The Hitman's Bodyguard. I will be the first to admit that I was painfully underwhelmed with the film's trailers, and not because I wanted the film to succeed that badly, but simply because it did a deliberate job of making sure the film would be better than the trailer. We all know this doesn't happen all of the time. The film, which hits American theaters on August 18th, was a delightful change of pace for a hyper-cliched round-a-bout year of cinematic mediocrity who exigencies include post-credit scenes that guarantee sequels, doorstep sequences that lead to cinematic universe crossovers, and narrow-minded projects that take themselves way too serious to be effective, albeit with little depth. Thankfully, THB, though it missed some marks, mostly hit some good points, particularly with its leads.
The film centers around Michael Bryce, (played with endearingly self-righteous resolve by Ryan Reynolds) a top official of a "triple-A" rated protection agency, who loses everything after his first major failure as a bodyguard. The spiraling effects of the death of his client leads Bryce to a task that, according to his Interpol agent ex-girlfriend Amelia (Elodie Yung, who nailed her portrayal of the deadly Elektra Natchios in the second season of Netflix's Daredevil), could potentially restore his triple-A rating and reputation. Bryce reluctantly accepts the assignment which, to his dismay, is to protect Darius Kincaid (played with atomic vigor by Samuel L. Jackson, who appears to have also developed a anti-aging potion in his spare time) on the way to the Hague from the UK to testify against a diabolical European dictator named Dukhovich (one of Gary Oldman's more generic roles). Kincaid is one of the most ruthless hitmen on the planet, and has himself attempted to kill Bryce numerous times in the past. What ensues on the subsequent road trip is the expected tension between our two leads as well as platinum levels of swearing, but also an unexpected depth that somehow engages the audience's morality radar without disrupting the comedy.
That being said, this film is a comedy with action, unlike my original belief that the film might take itself a little more seriously than it ought. Although there is strength on the action front, THB thankfully jokes first and shoots later, fully leveraging the expectations the audience has when hearing that actors like Jackson and Reynolds are starring in a new comedy together. Since they are playing two highly-skilled people who have attempted to evade each other their entire careers, their road trip demands that Bryce and Kincaid insult each other and bicker to no end, which helps them to reach their golden point during the dialog: their highly-fluctuating levels of attitude that can begin as a level-1 retort of sandpaper-dry expression, quickly shooting up to level-50 screaming in frustration and anguish. It's a delightful execution of banter between two superstars who may not have the frighteningly natural chemistry as, say, modern comedy cornerstones Seth Rogen and James Franco--or any of Judd Apatow's core players, for that matter--but within the confines of the context, it works in a unique way.
The side-players are little more obvious and less unique, however. Salma Hayek (who, at 50, likely stumbled upon Jackson's anti-aging beverage herself) plays Kincaid's wife Sonia, who sadly spends the majority of the film in a prison cell being updated on the whereabouts of her husband. The film does a great job on focusing on the concept of love, something Kincaid thoroughly believes is one of very few things can cause him to slip up as a hitman, and his constant reflections on it bring us to one of the best scenes in the film--the first time Darius meets Sonia. Here, we see the future Mrs. Kincaid completely obliterate a dozen local and flirtatious dirtbags with her bare hands (and maybe a beer bottle or two) in what is easily one of the movie's most awkwardly funny action sequences. It's about as John Wick as the film will allow itself to be.
Elodie Yung's straight-shooter cop Amelia is less dynamic, although thankfully, she is not exploited as a sexy prop or useless eye candy to leverage the R-rating of the film. Her best moments on-screen are her interactions with Reynolds, who's down-on-his-luck Bryce broke up with her over a mistake she never made years back. Hilarious banter ensues as Bryce attempts to 'forgive her' and pretend his feelings for her aren't still lingering around, while Amelia is so dedicated to her job, it's hard for her to even react positively to anything funny on-screen. Gary Oldman's villain does surprisingly little in the film; he is not a tangible force of evil that is right behind the good guys, but more of a shadowy puppet master more interested than pulling strings than pulling triggers--although one particular scene early on does showcase his desensitization to evil.
On a personal note, I'm always glad to watch an R-rated film that contains no nudity or sex in it; it's a very deliberate decision on the director's part to exclude those types of elements, and not dissimilarly to other R-rated action flicks like The Matrix, Terminator 3, and the aforementioned John Wick, this film lacks any type of adults-only provocative material. It focuses strongly on the action instead, which is both fun and done quite well--especially compared to, say, The Dark Tower. The car/motorcycle/motorboat combinations provide a thrilling rush of adrenaline that gives even the tastefully ridiculous and cartoony action of The Fate of the Furious a run for it's muscly money. Helicopters explode, bullets fly, and bystanders' days are often ruined by the ensuing chaos. It's the humanity of both Reynolds and Jackson, however, that keeps THB from feeling like the audience is mindlessly watching Deadpool facing off against Nick Fury with bullets and insults, and actually keeps us engaged. Director Patrick Hughes previously helmed the third entry of The Expendables, and here we can see that his action chops are refined as our two highly-trained, mismatched "heroes" kill (and protect) with precision and--in stark contrast to their attitudes and potty-mouths--class.
In conclusion, let me reiterate that I'm glad that I'm a Regal Crown Club member. Had I not been, I may not have had this opportunity to attend this very cool (and free!) pre-screening. And, had I not attended this (free!) pre-screening, I may not have been gunning to see this film opening day. Again, the trailers didn't appeal to me much. However, I can safely say this film is definitely worth the price of admission. It isn't perfect, but far from bad. Some of the jokes that fall flat are still pretty funny when the person sitting next to you bursts into laughter at them. The film is more about experience than precision or legacy, and as a screwball action-comedy, it does its job pretty well. See The Hitman's Bodyguard for yourself when it's released this Friday, August 18th.