Released four years ago to a collective “Sure, I’d watch that, I guess” shrug of audience rubber stamping, The Hitman’s Bodyguard dared to wonder what Midnight Run would look like if it had no moral center to speak of, plus mugging movie stars in place of any actual characters. Yet that glib, derivative buddy comedy is a model of sparkling Hollywood entertainment compared to its sequel. If the inelegantly titled Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard had an iota of wit, it might function as a Gremlins 2 parody of its predecessor, so blithely does it jettison the already nominal sense that anything happening on screen is of any consequence. Instead, the heightened cartoon zaniness of this new installment feels like a joke at the expense of the viewer: The impression is of a creative team laughing that they’re getting away with this again, like a group of bank robbers howling as they round the block in their getaway car, then circling back to nonchalantly knock off the same place again.
If the original had anything going for it, it was the halfway-agreeable chemistry between its eponymous mismatched partners, perennially put-upon bodyguard Michael Bryce (Ryan Reynolds) and cucumber-cool international assassin Darius Kincaid (Samuel L. Jackson). Neither Reynolds nor Jackson were exactly stretching themselves, but the movie at least understood the appeal of its calculus—the potential comic dividends of bouncing Reynolds’ sarcastic exasperation off of Jackson’s swaggering irreverence. You got what you paid for with that pairing, even if the movie around it was simultaneously forgettable and rather unpleasantly callous in its mayhem.
Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard (again, what a title) wastes little time reuniting its stars. But the spark between them has fizzled. Jackson, for his part, coasts harder on just being Sam Jackson, ageless icon of cool, than he ever has before, which is really saying something. He slouches back into his role with an unmistakable indifference, fuzzying any qualities that distinguished this cackling swinging-dick from a dozen others on his resume. By the umpteenth bored, perfunctory “motherfucker,” you realize you’re witnessing the kind of checked-out check-cashing that his Jackie Brown costar Robert De Niro has been doing, on and blessedly off, for the last couple decades. Reynolds, by contrast, goes bigger, admittedly in accordance with a script that cranks the finicky neurosis of his character to a deeply annoying 11. On orders from his therapist, Bryce has sworn off violence (“I’m on sabbatical,” he keeps bellowing, which gets less funny every time he says it), and the movie treats his prissy pacifism like a license for slapstick abuse, shot-gunning stunt doubles into walls and sending rubbery digital avatars of Bryce through windshields.
As the title suggests, Kincaid’s foul-mouthed spouse, played by a perpetually cooing or screaming Salma Hayek, has been promoted to co-lead, her Sonia newly identified as an “international con-woman.” Let’s just say that the little of that character’s nonstop, high-volume invective we got in the first movie went a long way. Most of the film unfolds like a shrill third-wheel sitcom, as Reynolds’ vacationing Bryce is entrapped into accompanying the unhinged couple on an oddly leisurely mission across scenic, must-have-been-a-pleasant-shoot Italy. Their target: a powerful, stylish, right wing Greek billionaire played, with an apropos lack of spirit, by Antonio Banderas. (What passes for clever in this movie is putting the stars of Desperado back in the frame together, and then giving them nothing fun to say or…
Read More:A sequel as bad as its title