“The Hitman’s Bodyguard” unleashes a double-barreled shot of Ryan Reynolds and Samuel L. Jackson and still winds up mostly firing blanks. A bloody buddy movie, the action-comedy puts its stars’ appeal to the test, as they bicker and blast their way through Europe in roughly that order.
There’s an old-school quality to the formula, but the execution quickly yields diminishing returns. Despite the occasional burst of silliness, it’s a pallid version not only of the leads’ past roles, but prior odd-couple pairings like “48 Hrs.” or “Midnight Run.”
In that spirit, the paper-thin plot unfolds against the deadline of a ticking clock, which casts Jackson as Darius Kincaid, a notorious hitman. He’s in the custody of Interpol, which has 27 hours to transport him from England to The Hague in the Netherlands, where he’s scheduled to testify against a ruthless dictator (Gary Oldman, at half-speed by his bad-guy standards) who stands accused of war crimes.
After the first of many, many gun battles (all waged at a decibel level set on “deafening”), an Interpol agent (“Daredevil’s” Elodie Yung) recruits her former boyfriend, Michael Bryce (Reynolds), to get Kincaid to the court on time. Bryce is a private-security specialist who has hit a rough patch, and he has some history with his new charge, so much so that at first glance the two try to kill each other.
Much bantering, colorful cursing (it’s Samuel L. Jackson, after all) and chases involving the aforementioned dictator’s disposable minions follow, along with modest crumbs about our heroes’ respective pasts. In Kincaid’s case, for example, he’s cooperating with authorities to win the release of his wife (Salma Hayek), who, rather adorably, is every bit as foul-mouthed, ill-tempered and violent as her hubby.
Reynolds has a knack for mixing mayhem with smart-alecky ripostes, but as constituted here it at best feels like “Deadpool” lite. Ditto for Jackson, in a weak variation of his Quentin Tarantino roles, as director Patrick Hughes never quite gets a handle on the tone as the movie oscillates between grisly violence and smirk-y throwaway lines.
The result is thus neither fish nor fowl, and too chaotic and episodic (argue, fight, repeat) to even serve as an enticing European travelogue. While it goes without saying that the hitman and his reluctant protector will forge a grudging bond, the two run out of fresh insults and schoolyard taunts long before they exhaust their supply of bullets.
One of the recurring gags pivots on Kincaid’s survival skills — a guy so hard to kill that his wife refers to him as a cockroach. The abundant explosions notwithstanding, “The Hitman’s Bodyguard” gradually feels as if it, too, is just sort of crawling along, until you start to wish that somebody would step on it.
“The Hitman’s Bodyguard” opens in the U.S. on Aug. 18. It’s rated R.