The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard, review: an all-action atrocity edited with a knife and fork
Dir: Patrick Hughes. Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Salma Hayek, Samuel L Jackson, Antonio Banderas, Frank Grillo, Morgan Freeman, Alice McMillan. 15 cert, 100 mins
The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard has been designed with viewers who are unfamiliar with the first film in mind, which makes a great deal of sense, since it’s hard to imagine anyone who saw it would voluntarily sit through a second.
Its predecessor, The Hitman’s Bodyguard, was a 2017 action comedy of rare, spirit-sapping hideousness, in which Ryan Reynolds and Samuel L Jackson played a pair of jabbering gunslingers in an uneasy alliance, shooting and swearing their way around Europe. In the follow-up they’re joined on a second spree by Salma Hayek, who returns as Jackson’s spouse, and is given the opportunity to do some shooting and swearing of her own, having spent much of the original as a hostage.
Director Patrick Hughes and his quartet of screenwriters show their hand almost as soon as the villain’s scheme is revealed. Said villain is Antonio Banderas, who plays a shipping magnate who wants to bring down the European Union in revenge for sanctions imposed on his home country, which we’re invited to believe is Greece, despite all heavy-Spanish-accent-based evidence to the contrary. To do this, he plans to destroy a crucial EU undersea data pipeline with a giant, diamond-tipped drill, a blueprint of which causes Frank Grillo’s Interpol agent to quip: “Last time I saw something like this, Bruce Willis was digging a hole through an asteroid.”
In fact it’s not just Armageddon, but the entire oeuvre of Michael Bay, Hollywood’s master of crass, that The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard is desperately trying to channel. Yet in place of Bay’s provocative humour and unparalleled eye for destructive spectacle are brain-numbing quantities of strong language, action scenes that look as if they were edited with a knife and fork, and a blasé attitude towards violence that renders every shootout pointless, since the bad guys are invariably mown down in seconds while the heroes saunter off with barely a scratch.
Of course, in films of this type we know from the opening credits that the heroes will surmount whatever seemingly impossible odds the script throws at them. But the audience has to be allowed to play along with the idea that they might not, for excitement’s sake. There may be no more rudimentary action-movie rule than this, but The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard flouts it in every other scene, whether it’s with Reynolds’s character, a highly-strung elite private-security guard called Michael Bryce, being hit by multiple cars with no long-term side effects, or Hayek’s fiery-tempered Sonia Kincaid annihilating goons without even looking by firing a machine gun over her shoulder.
The two initially team up to rescue Jackson’s Darius Kincaid, a legendary hitman, from the clutches of some wrongdoer or other, but soon all three are wreaking havoc in various Italian tourist spots, theoretically in the cause of thwarting the impending drill attack. For reasons justified by the script in a technical sense only, Sonia and Darius decide to treat the mission as a second honeymoon, and much frantic middle-aged coitus ensues, to Michael’s disgust. There is an awkwardly brief cameo for Richard E Grant (he was in the first too) and a far more prominent one for Morgan Freeman, whose very role is a joke, and the film comprehensively fluffs it, like all the others.
For a flavour of the writing’s extraordinary laziness, consider that Grillo’s character’s young Scots assistant is called ‘Ailso’ purely so he can mishear it as “asshole”: the gag is justified with a comment about this being a “traditional Scottish name”, even though it hasn’t been registered on a Scottish birth certificate since at least 1974. (That’s as far as the records go back online, and yes, I was irritated enough to check.)
In truth, this is a film made exclusively for an audience of complete and utter Ailsos, whom Hollywood is presumably confident are out there somewhere, since it must have cost upwards of $70 million. If they are, and if this film finds them, we’ll know who to blame in three years for the arrival of The Hitman’s Wife’s Nephew’s Bodyguard’s Guinea Pig.
In cinemas now