Maybe you remember The Hitman’s Bodyguard. Maybe you don’t. We wouldn’t blame you if the details regarding this pulpy 2017 buddy comedy had faded from your memory banks like so much post-headshot pink mist. Ryan Reynolds is a disgraced bodyguard. Samuel L. Jackson is a hitman who’s supposed to testify at the Hague in a war-crimes trial. The two end up bickering a lot and saving each other’s lives, things get blowed up real good, Jackson says “motherfucker” a lot, yadda yadda yadda. As a bonus, you got a breakneck chase scene in a canal in Amsterdam and Gary Oldman sporting an over-the-top accent. Cool.
It’s less an actual action movie than a rough sketch or crude cave painting of one. It was, however, proof that you can pair two charismatic, highly bankable movie stars — both of whom have done top-notch work as one half of other duos — and see them generate exactly zero chemistry together. Though their team-up earned over $176 million worldwide, this poor man’s 48 Hrs. didn’t even crack the top 40 highest grossing films of the year. A sequel was not, as they say, inevitable.
And yet here we are, slowly shuffling back into theaters after months and months of pining for something, anything, to see on a big screen again, and we’re greeted by another chapter of what now seems to be a franchise. Once again, Reynolds’ exasperated “executive protection agent” Michael Bryce tries to get his career and life back on track. Once again, Samuel L. Jackson’s killer-for-hire Darius Kincaid messes up those plans for him. This time, instead of Oldman’s scenery-chewing Eastern European despot, we get Antonio Banderas’ silver-haired, Greek shipping billionaire — you read all of that correctly — who’s planning a massive cyberattack in an attempt to cripple the E.U., or something like that. You’ll care as much about this excuse to get these guys working together again as the movie does, which is not at all.
Salma Hayek — more on her in a second — is back as Darius’ wife, Sonia, who keeps crowing about how she wants a baby in between deploying F-bombs in both English and Spanish. Morgan Freeman drops by for a bit, partially to move the “story” along and partially to serve as a punchline to an unfunny conceptual “joke.” Frank Grillo shows up as an Interpol agent who’s dying to get back to Boston (seriously, WTF is going on here?!?), and needs Bryce and the Kincaids to act as go-betweens involving some illicit stuff regarding the villain’s scheme. He doesn’t punch or kick or pound anyone, or rock any gun-fu whatsoever. To repeat: Grillo, a boxer and a brown belt in jiujitsu, the 21st century’s version of Lee Marvin, and one of the most compelling he-man action heroes of the past 10 years (check out Boss Level), does not get a single action sequence here. He just yells, which Grillo is admittedly really good at, but come on, people.
Many disposable, interchangeable bad guys get shot. Some exotic locales whizz by. There will be boob jokes. Once again, Reynolds and Jackson end up bickering a lot and saving each other’s lives, things blow up real good, and Jackson says “motherfucker” twice as much as he did in the original. Once again, you may find yourself wondering, even as a fan of both of these actors and of action movies in general, why the hell you’re watching all of it. Was this what we were so anxious to get back to after a postponed 2020 summer-movie season and a year of shuttered theaters?
There’s a single wild card in this deck, and that’s Hayek. Her character was peripheral in the first movie, someone designed to motivate Jackson’s assassin to cooperate with the authorities. She was also a badass, and the sort of take-no-shit barroom brawler that made an ideal life partner for a hitman. As the pile-up of possessives that is this sequel’s title tips off, the not-so-dymamic duo of the original movie is a slightly-more-dynamic trio this time out, and for The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard‘s first half, you’re reminded that Hayek has an A deadpan delivery and serious screwball-comic chops. She screams half of her lines, most of which are just creative strings of profanity, but she brings an anarchic quality to this hot mess that is sorely needed. Let’s put it this way: The above-the-title stars and much of the supporting cast seem to be stuck in a listless, live-action version of a violent Tex Avery cartoon. Hayek plays her part like she’s in the actual cartoon herself. She’s the best thing about this movie by a massive margin. Naturally, she practically gets kicked to the sidelines for the last half.
While Australian director Patrick Hughes has logged hours making modest, tense cop thrillers (Red Hill) and overblown, big-budget franchise stuff (The Expendables 3), you don’t get the sense that he’s doing much in these Bodyguard movies except pointing his camera at his stars and stunt teams and crossing his fingers. Other than staging silent carnage while some ironic song plays over the soundless fury, he doesn’t offer anything resembling style onscreen; it might as well be stock footage up there. There’s an art to making action films, and that artistry is as AWOL here as it is in the first movie. Supposedly, a third entry has been greenlit. Just make it a solo Hayek joint, or, to paraphrase Jackson, put this motherfucking franchise out of its motherfucking misery.