A dumb movie that doesn’t know it’s dumb is almost always worse than a dumb movie loudly and proudly proclaiming its stupidity from the rooftops. There’s something endearing, or at least productively straightforward for the filmmakers, when everything’s on the same page—even if that page looks like Jack Torrance just got finished typing the F-word over and over again. The Hitman’s Bodyguard falls into the former category while its sequel, Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard adapts to the latter. It doesn’t make it any good, but it does make it an improvement over the original in every way—even if those improvements simply upgrade it to a hacky action/comedy from a hacky and tonally disjointed action/comedy.
At least, they do when returning director Patrick Hughes steers things into full-blown Archer/Kingsman super-spy silliness after a grating introduction walks us through some key franchise changes. The first? Badass by-the-book bodyguard extraordinaire Michael Bryce (Ryan Reynolds) is a wimp now. He’s no longer just the stick-in-the-mud foil to loose cannon hitman Darius Kincaid (Samuel L. Jackson), but a sad, lonely, inept loser reconfiguring the central comic dynamic away from its Midnight Run riff. The second? Darius’ wife, Sonia (Salma Hayek), a criminal in her own right, has been upgraded to the main trio…if the title didn’t already make this clear. This addition also serves to reinforce the film’s commitment to comedy, as she and Darius are constantly scream-swearing, shooting or stealing porn-intensity quickies around the now-timid Michael.
Naturally, these three maroons get swept up in an international action plot that’s details are as bare as Sonia’s neckline. All you really need to know is that they have to stop the big baddie, played by Antonio Banderas whom the movie tries to pass off as a Greek mogul (named Aristotle, I suppose, as an additional middle finger to the very concept of logic). But even he, alongside Frank Grillo’s sloppy Interpol agent who’s handling the main trio on what becomes a bit of a mission, just feels like garish set decoration. Banderas at least sinks his teeth into the silliness, but Grillo isn’t much in the way of actionless acting—especially as the semi-straight man. Really, though, it barely matters who’s on screen: Everyone’s always yelling and something is usually blowing up. The sound design turns into sort of a dick-measuring contest between the actors’ vocal cords and the chaotic sound effects, which means this sucker is LOUD and hard to comprehend.
But even that doesn’t exactly diminish what the film’s bringing to the table. As the three galivant across Europe, Sonia and Darius leaving chaos (and usually an injured Michael) in their wake, Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard revisits all the jokes of the first and moves on to bigger, brasher gags. While these aren’t broken up by cloying and dissonant heart-to-hearts about love like in the first film—which makes the movie’s two hours move at a much faster clip once it gets past the half-hour mark—they’re still almost all jokes done before and done better by every action-comedy that ever took aim at 007. Michael is hit by many cars, and accidentally takes strong drugs. Jackson has a Mace Windu reference. Morgan Freeman shows up as a Family Guy-like stunt casting punchline. The main novelty, and the film’s primary pleasure, is the commitment of its cast to its bloody, profane vapidity.
While Reynolds’ comedic chops are well-documented and varied—he can quip with the best of them, deliver an “ain’t I a stinker” look like no other and do it all with such easy charisma that it’s hard not to buy what he’s selling—he gets to be an amusing punching bag this time around, adding a wrinkle that keeps him fresh even when the humor isn’t. He and Jackson’s chemistry still doesn’t quite click (it’s still like two competitive eaters going after the same package of hot dogs), and Jackson himself gets far less to do than in the first film, but Hayek overwhelms them both.
Her full-bore cartoon, a terrifying double-barreled shotgun loaded with bilingual expletives, and the sheer volume of the film allows the actress to push her vocal powers to the limits. She veers between commanding and intimidating to low-key weird whenever the subplot turns to her desire to become a mother. Hayek is obviously having a good time navigating this broad spectrum, and her ability to deadpan (or even pout) during some very strange lines gives the film most of its genuine laughs. Tom Hopper, playing the superstar bodyguard equivalent of Jason Statham’s character in Spy, also steals scenes by straight-facing some of the best and most parody-focused dialogue.
Those lines are few and far between, scattered like debris following Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard’s frequent, uninspired explosions. Hughes still directs action like Michael Bay conducting setpieces over the phone from a beach chair. The cuts are quick and sloppy, the shots tell you what’s going on and little else, and it’s all done with whatever energy was left over after gassing up its cast to bicker through one more take. That new writers Brandon and Phillip Murphy join returning scripter Tom O’Connor to help warp this sequel into undiluted, crass comedy junk is a boon for the series as a whole, but only takes it so far. When Hitman’s Bodyguard’s Wife’s Son eventually comes out, their next improvement can be adding good jokes after realizing that the franchise should be only jokes.
Director: Patrick Hughes
Writers: Tom O’Connor, Brandon Murphy, Phillip Murphy
Stars: Ryan Reynolds, Samuel L. Jackson, Salma Hayek, Antonio Banderas, Frank Grillo, Morgan Freeman
Release Date: June 16, 2021
Jacob Oller is Movies Editor at Paste Magazine. You can follow him on Twitter at @jacoboller.
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