‘The Hitman’s Bodyguard’ Review: Ryan Reynolds, Samuel L Jackson Liven Up Routine Shoot-Em-Up

Two charming stars and one canal boat chase aren’t enough to distinguish this Euro-set action-comedy

“The Hitman’s Bodyguard” is the kind of movie that “Deadpool” was supposed to rescue Ryan Reynolds from having to make.

It’s the sort of film that forces him and his co-star Samuel L. Jackson to work double-time on their charm offensive in an attempt to distract audiences from the material’s utter familiarity.

You’ve seen this movie a lot in the past few years: take one or two internationally marketable stars (usually it’s Kevin Costner or John Travolta or Bruce Willis or Nicolas Cage or John Cusack or Robert De Niro), bolster the cast with one or two slumming great actors, throw in some recognizable English-as-a-second-language performers (who will get more prominent poster placement in their home countries), give them some gags and some guns and an otherwise undistinguished (and easily-dubbed) screenplay, and you’re off to eventual profitability.

This iteration — written by Tom O’Connor (“Fire with Fire”) and directed by Patrick Hughes (“The Expendables 3”) — stars Reynolds as Bryce, whose business as a top-dollar security agent fell apart two years ago when a Japanese arms dealer died on his watch. Now he’s stuck protecting coked-up lawyers (Richard E. Grant provides an amusingly twitchy cameo) and resenting his ex, Amelia (Elodie Yung, Netflix’s “Daredevil”), an INTERPOL agent whom he blames for his misfortune.

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He’s less than thrilled when Amelia calls asking for a favor: she needs to transport hired killer Darius Kincaid (Jackson) to The Hague so he can testify in the crimes-against-humanity trial of Belarusian president Vladislav Dukhovich (Gary Oldman), and since there’s a mole at INTERPOL, Bryce is the only person who can deliver Kincaid by the 5 p.m.-tomorrow deadline.

If you have ever seen a movie produced between 1983 and 1991, you know exactly what happens. You know that Bryce and Kincaid hate each other, but that they will develop a grudging respect and friendship. You know that Kincaid will try to escape several times but will ultimately do the right thing. You will also guess who the INTERPOL mole is within the first three minutes of the movie.

What you may not see coming is how sloppily O’Connor assembles the screenplay. There are jarring shifts in tone – wacky violence one moment, Oldman shooting a small child in the head (thankfully, offscreen) the next – lengthy exposition dumps that don’t sound anything like human conversation, and something like three different endings when audiences are ready to leave the theater after the first one.

And then there are the two scenes that ironically use retro FM radio ballads for brutally violent yet romantic flashbacks. Because we didn’t get the joke the first time, apparently. This kind of lazy screenwriting cancels out the script’s attempts to be self-aware, whether it’s someone shouting, “WHY ARE WE SHOUTING?” or Bryce observing that Kincaid has “ruined the word ‘motherf—er’ for me.”

That’s not to say “The Hitman’s Bodyguard” is a total wash, however; the cast seems game, and perhaps they realize it’s on them to elevate the material, so the scenes between Reynolds and Jackson have some genuine snap to them, even though the dialogue and characterization are barely memorable. The movie’s MVP at making the most out of the least is Salma Hayek, as Jackson’s incarcerated wife; her scenes wouldn’t be nearly as funny without her broadly fearless overplaying.

The other key player here is stunt coordinator Greg Powell (“Avengers: Age of Ultron”), who offers both quality and quantity. Hughes’ action sequences are mostly by the numbers, but when the film busts out a breathtaking chase through the Amsterdam canals – featuring boats, bridges, motorcycles and cars – it provides a much-needed injection of adrenaline to the proceedings. (Would that the fake-fire-and-explosions VFX work in the film were at this level.)

“The Hitman’s Bodyguard” is generic, to be sure, but as a mid-August air-conditioning delivery system, overheated viewers could certainly do worse.