Hitman's Wife's Bodyguard (United States/United Kingdom, 2021)June 15, 2021
Four years ago, when I reviewed The Hitman’s Bodyguard, I described it as a fun throwback to the mixed-race buddy pictures of the late 1980s and early 1990s. Due in large part to the combustible chemistry between lead actors Ryan Reynolds (who played the titular bodyguard) and Samuel L. Jackson (who played the titular hitman), it worked as an enjoyable summer romp. Would that the same could be said of the unnecessary, tedious sequel – an example of what happens when the financial gains of a stand-alone film cause everyone involved to envision a franchise-in-the-making.
Once again, director Patrick Hughes and screenwriter Tom O’Connor have returned to that bygone era of the ‘80s/’90s, but this time their level of inspiration has sunk from the likes of Lethal Weapon to If Looks Could Kill. In their zeal to latch onto the most egregiously over-the-top conventions of the 007 series, many of those older B-grade action/comedies lost sight of what fans loved about Bond and instead ended up struggling through a morass of poorly choreographed stunts, cardboard characters, and dumb, convoluted plots. Those characteristics are all in evidence in Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard. (Note: For reasons that are unclear, the title has misplaced the “The” somewhere along the way).
The movie begins with a thin and confusing explanation for reuniting the three main characters from the first film: ex-AAA Bodyguard Michael Bryce (Reynolds), who is taking a sabbatical from using guns; hitman Darius Kincaid (Jackson), who has been kidnapped by some do-badders; and Darius’ profanity-spewing wife, Sonia (Salma Hayek), who is most interested in getting her hubby back so they can resume their attempts to make a baby.
The movie’s bad guy is the extraordinarily-named Aristotle Papadopolous, a Greek autocrat who has an inexplicable Spanish accent (because the actor playing him, Antonio Banderas, elected not to attempt a Greek accent – or attempted it and it ended up sounding like his usual Spanish accent). Papadopolous has apparently escaped from a Bond movie and is running amok in this one, trying to assemble a big diamond drill that will allow him to devastate the entire world (except Greece). Interpol decides that the fate of civilization should rest on the shoulders of The Hitman, The Bodyguard, and The Hitman’s Wife. Why not the butcher, the baker, and the candlestick-maker?
The argument against lambasting the incoherent storyline is that no one goes to see something like Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard for the plot. Why do they go? In this case, simply to get out of the house for a couple of hours. It’s not for the humor. The best jokes in the movie aren’t worthy of more than a chuckle or two. There’s nothing clever to be found in the screenplay or execution, although the filmmakers apparently think their handling of Morgan Freeman is hilarious. (Freeman was used to better comedic effect in Coming 2 America.) The action is sloppy – an inexcusable faux pas when one considers the painfully exact choreography involved in crafting fights and chases in the Fast and Furious and John Wick franchises. Hughes’ reliance on spastic camera movements and quick-flash editing succeeds in so disorienting the viewer that the action scenes become more an exercise in figuring out what’s going on than an opportunity to enjoy a kinetic ballet.
Perhaps the biggest (and most noticeable) fall-off from the first film is the lack of chemistry between Reynolds and Jackson. The two never connect. Rarely have I seen the volcanic Jackson look so disinterested; this is the closest he’s ever come to phoning it in. Reynolds, now forever trapped in the Deadpool role, spends the entire movie grappling to find the character he left behind in The Hitman’s Bodyguard. Hayek provides plenty of energy but she’s trapped by the cliché of the explosive Latina wife. The miscast Banderas is suitably menacing but he seems to believe he’s supposed to be in a serious movie.
One sad irony about Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard is that, as a result of COVID, this has been elevated from a sequel with moderate expectations to one of the “major” releases designed to lure audiences back to multiplexes. Excepting the A-list cast, there’s nothing about the movie that exceeds direct-to-video expectations. As part of a streaming package, it would have been far from perfect but at least it would have stolen only time, not money. Using this an inducement for reopening theaters inadvertently makes the case for multiplex avoidance.
Hitman's Wife's Bodyguard (United States/United Kingdom, 2021)
Cast: Ryan Reynolds, Samuel L. Jackson, Salma Hayek, Antonio Banderas, Morgan Freeman, Richard E. Grant, Tom Hopper, Frank Grillo, Caroline Goodall
Home Release Date: 2021-08-17
Screenplay: Tom O’Connor, Brandon Murphy, Phillip Murphy
Cinematography: Terry Stacey
Music: Atli Orvarsson
U.S. Distributor: Lionsgate