There was a time, before the phrase "cinematic universe" was a thing, that the two-hander action comedy was as good as box office gold. Classics like 48 Hours, Lethal Weapon, Midnight Run and Rush Hour spawned sequels and franchises, pitting two mismatched "partners" with each other to reach a common goal. These days, they aren't nearly as common as they once were, which is why Lionsgate's The Hitman's Bodyguard almost feels like a throwback to a bygone era, with two of today's most charismatic actors, Ryan Reynolds and Samuel L. Jackson pitted against each other. While the action and the chemistry between these stars most certainly works, my enjoyment of the movie was often hampered by a story that's even more derivative than the trailers present.
What I was also surprised by was the rather intense level of action here, with some truly thrilling set pieces that I wasn't really expecting. That's one of the benefits of setting this up as an action-comedy, though. You have to sell the dynamic between Ryan Reynolds and Samuel L. Jackson, that you can leave your juiciest set pieces behind without shortchanging the fans. They're basically telling you: come for Deadpool vs. Nick Fury (I wonder if Lionsgate would get sued for trying that...) but stay for some crazy action set pieces. Director Patrick Hughes, in just his third feature film (The Expendables 3, Red Hill) shows that he has the chops to handle both the action and the break-neck dialogue exchanges between two actors who most certainly have the so-called "gift of gab."
Just for the dialogue exchanges and the scope of the story alone, I'm not at all surprised that the script from writer Tom O'Connor (Fire With Fire) made the Black List in 2011, and the writer certainly keeps the audience on their toes with plenty of surprises along the way. When the first Hitman's Bodyguard trailer debuted in April, the video was partially set to Whitney Houston's iconic song from The Bodyguard, which is certainly humorous on one level, given the nature of this story. The plot centers on Michael Brice (Ryan Reynolds) reluctantly agreeing to protect the man who has tried to kill him and his clients for many years, Darius Kincaid (Samuel L. Jackson), since Kincaid is now the only man who can testify against a nefarious dictator, Vladislav Dukhovich (Gary Oldman) and his war crimes, and, of course, there's only a certain amount of time left for Kincaid to testify, or Dukhovich walks free.
While The Bodyguard trope was certainly trotted out for fun, the script, in a lot of places, comes off as trope piecemeal. There is the "reluctant partners on the run" thing from Rush Hour, The Rundown and lesser-known fare like Bulletproof and the highly-underrated Skiptrace (it's on Netflix, check it out). The whole race against the clock to testify in time thing reminded me a lot of 16 Blocks and the whole hitchhiking with church folks thing reminded me of... something... Borat, maybe? I don't know, the point is, there were a different parts of the movie that got my trope Spidey sense tingling, because it felt so familiar. Still, with that being said, there is not that same level of familiarity with the dialogue, which is very fresh and raucously hilarious at times. I also wasn't too big of a fan of Elodie Yung's performance as Amelia Roussel, the Interpol agent (and Brice's ex-lover) who gets Brice to protect his worst enemy. They're whole back story feels like it has too much weight and I wasn't really into it, but Kincaid's back story is peppered with fascinating tidbits that all pay off in fascinating ways. Also there is a great supporting turn from Salma Hayek as Darius' foul-mouthed wife, Sonia Kincaid, who is not one to be trifled with.
This movie had been in development for quite some time, with Pierre Morel once attached back in 2012, less than a year after Tom O'Connor's script surfaced on the Black List. However, after all those years, Tom O'Connor still has sole writing credit, which is certainly a testament to the script itself. Anything that can manage to endure throughout the grind known as development hell, where countless writers are often brought on along the way, and come out with only the original writer's name on the movie, is truly impressive, since it doesn't happen terribly often (ex. Passengers). Still, its derivative tropes aside, The Hitman's Bodyguard is just one hell of a good time, providing plenty of action and the multi-talented stylings of Ryan Reynolds and Sam Jackson, the perfect comedy duo for these troubling times, who can not only make us laugh, but kick some ass while doing so.