Ryan Reynolds, Samuel L. Jackson, Salma Hayek, Morgan Freeman and Antonio Banderas are wasted in this cartoonish and hackneyed action-comedy sequel.
The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard isn’t the first “unexpected” sequel to a surprise smash hit to fumble the ball regarding artistically justifying another installment and/or remembering what made the original click. In a less IP-driven time, original or new-to-cinema franchises of this nature were Hollywood’s favorite happy accidents. Patrick Hughes’ The Hitman’s Bodyguard was no classic, but it was a big, R-rated, star-driven meat-and-potatoes action-comedy that remembered to balance the meat and potatoes. It was an old-school crowdpleaser. It featured strong practical actions sequences, just a hint of real-world topicality and winning chemistry between its straight man (Ryan Reynolds as a former top-tier bodyguard brought low by a high-profile failure) and its creator of comic chaos (Samuel L. Jackson as an infamous assassin-turned-witness against Gary Oldman’s genocidal tyrant). It was a “real movie.”
For those who came in late, The Hitman’s Bodyguard starred Reynolds as Michael Bryce, a grumpy but hyper-competent, low-level bodyguard indirectly tasked with delivering professional killer Darius Kincaid to a court date. By the end of the film, sorry for the spoilers, justice is done, honor is restored. At the same time, the professional protector and the professional murderer have reached a level of mutual respect and situational friendship. However, for reasons that make no sense, Bryce’s climactic heroism has resulted in him being further ostracized from the unofficial bodyguard club, with a company-mandated shrink arguing that he should take a break from trying to break back into the field. Alas, minutes into his holiday, violence ensues as Sonia Kincaid (Salma Hayek, the “hitman’s wife” of the title) snatches Bryce off a poolside chair and thrusts him into a globe-trotting adventure.
Long story short, the Kincaids have gotten involved in a scheme by mafia kingpin Aristotle Papadopolous (Antonio Banderas) to destroy Europe to avenge Greece’s crippling EU sanctions. I again appreciated that the film’s evil plot was loosely connected to real-world politics. It’s a nice change from “trying to control the world’s information” or “trying to destroy the world to prevent climate change.” Alas, this bigger-budget follow-up, with an even splashier cast, pushes the tone so egregiously toward farce that it undercuts both the present-tense narrative and the events of its predecessor. This is yet another sequel where the climactic status quo of the previous film is needlessly undone, under very implausible circumstances, so that the key characters can essentially go on a near-identical adventure with near-identical character interaction. It also pushes its long-suffering title character toward cartoonish-ness.
While Michael wasn’t precisely Ethan Hunt or John Wick in The Hitman’s Bodyguard, he was exceptionally good at his chosen profession. The notion of a trained bodyguard trying to save the day without leaving a trail of corpses added a nice contrast to the usual R-rated action template. Alas, this second go-around A) returns to Michael and Darius hating each other all over again for no good reason and B) triples-down on Reynolds’ displeasure with the scenario while stripping his protagonist of his competence. He’s almost entirely presented as befuddled, stumbling and a glorified liability during the film’s many (handsomely staged if completely impersonal) action scenes and rendered the butt of jokes that in turn makes you root against his further involvement. The arch tone extends to the entire 99-minute feature, which negates any attempts at emotional investment.
The original flick was a surprisingly good movie precisely because it did the work to craft coherent characters and place the sometimes exaggerated action and comedy in a recognizable dramatic narrative. The farce on display this time out makes Rush Hour 2 look like The Corrupter. And everyone goes down with the ship. Banderas relishes playing a campy 007 villain and acting onscreen against his Desperado/Puss in Boots co-star. However, the notion of Morgan Freeman (as, well, it’s a slightly amusing reveal) and Samuel L. Jackson finally interacting onscreen becomes the definition of wasted potential. Hayek devours scenery beyond the bounds of plausibility, but the schtick is less amusing when she’s the main protagonist rather than a colorful sideshow. Reynolds gets stuck selling painfully literal explanations for Bryce’s various hang-ups.
The Hitman’s Bodyguard was a happy surprise in late summer 2017, becoming one of that season’s only releases to break out ($76 million domestic and $172 million worldwide on a $30 million budget) despite merely mixed-negative reviews. It mostly worked as a high-concept and star-driven, three-star big-deal action-comedy. It was also Samuel L. Jackson’s first significant studio lead action-movie role (give or take The Hateful Eight) in a generation. The notion of The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard is encouraging since the idea of getting a sequel encourages studios to spend $30-$50 million on original genre flicks (especially if the sequel rights don’t get snatched away by Netflix). Sometimes you get the next John Wick Chapter 2 or the next Lethal Weapon 2. Alas, The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard is closer to Another Stakeout or Another 48Hours.