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REVIEW – “Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard”: An Action Sequel That (Surprise) Narrowly Aims Off Mark

Four summers can often seem like a long eternity. For a film fan who favors overlooked or underappreciated franchises slowly building steam, it could equate to a matter of life and death. 2017 by comparison had a handful of favorites on screens, but was not all hits. One of those favorites might have easily been a favorite that literally everyone else either found indifferent or despicable, or didn’t notice its presence altogether. It was also one of those films that profited well enough to warrant a larger sequel. Whether it was essential remains anyone’s guess. Before, it was The Hitman’s Bodyguard with Ryan Reynolds and Samuel L. Jackson, a slightly cookie-cutter action comedy whose laurels rested comfortably on the heated chemistry of its’ leads battling themselves on the way to a court hearing for an embittered European nationalist. In Patrick Hughes’s late follow-up, Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard, the dynamics shift to slightly more complicated, and/or overacted territory sure to keep most fans unfazed.

In Gary Oldman’s place is Antonio Banderas, assuming the guise of Aristotle Papadopoulos, a disgraced Greek merchant whose country is tearing itself apart from restrictive government sanctions. His petty act of evil is simple enough: take down the EU’s power grid and online infrastructure in protest, and be as covert as possible. However, Interpol agents are on his tail, with Boston-born agent Bobby O’Neill (Frank Grillo) leading the investigation. Meanwhile, on the quiet island of Capri, former bodyguard Michael Bryce (Reynolds) is resting comfortably on a mandatory sabbatical. No longer haunted by past mistakes, namely his involvement with wanted hitman Darius Kincaid (Jackson), peace is found. For roughly an hour or so, before Darius’s wife Sonia (Salma Hayek) requests his service to retrieve the elusive workaholic, kidnapped in the wake of what she assumes to be just another gig.

Wasting literally zero time after that, Michael and Sonia are wrapped up in heavy artillery fire to rescue their third wheel, only to be trapped by O’Neill as crude moles in his own investigation. Bryce is more willing to play along than the freewheeling Darius, who has not changed much. His stuffed-shirt counterpart has adapted his worldview to think less violently, more strategically. The psychological trauma left behind from his past hijinks, coupled with the fact his career couldn’t completely recover has left him a bit listless (his wish for professional recertification plagues him as a recurring plot point, as do sudden nightmares), pondering a future without his life’s passion.

To be roped back into a world he was hoping to leave behind, Bryce’s arc evolves into something deeper in framework, though not entirely profound. It still gives plenty room for Reynolds to move beyond what would merely be a factory-made action protagonist. His fury and anxiety bring some needed lucidity, stuck in the middle between Jackson’s foul-mouthed, trigger-happy, overqualified assassin, and his fiery maven. Miss Hayek, who didn’t have much to work with in the last feature, is the adjunct leader of this story’s awkward dynamic, presenting herself as overprotective toward Michael. Some clear motherly instincts kick in while holding onto a powerful, even precious EMF bomb.

Jackson, I’m sorry to say, is perhaps the lame duck of the three, almost phoning in many of the less intensive scenes, leaving an open enough runway for Hayek to steal the screen for herself. After a handful of projects where her potential as a lead or supporting player was stifled by a lackluster script, she fights back and doesn’t relent. Perhaps to the point where she could’ve dialed back the generic fury a touch. Otherwise, she is golden, much like Reynolds, both delivering solid character development.

Hughes, once more working off a script by Tom O’Connor (The Courier), and debut feature writers Phillip and Brandon Murphy, is clearly not immune to repeating himself. Yes, the cast dynamics take a positive shift for the increasingly mature. Grillo’s presence aids in that regard, being the hall monitor with some small roguish motives. Otherwise, it follows a relatively similar pitter-patter of its predecessor, the stakes smaller by comparison. Banderas doesn’t help here, his villainous appearance sharply pale, comical, an ironic parody of a legit action baddie. His being involved only causes the plot to sink like a stone in a shallow pool. Only in the third act does him, and the film’s penchant for smooth, high-quality action scenes bordering on effortless originality, become organized. Some clear constraints with CGI get the better of Hughes’s vision, making up minimal slack well enough later on.

I still consider myself a fair-weather fan of Hughes’s first attempt at an Odd Couple-esque high-octane buddy comedy struggling to stand out. Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard plays on about the same level, mirroring a raunchier Three’s Company, but still leaving little to the imagination. It’s still a great deal of summer fun, reopening that genre door wide enough for multiplexes to capitalize. Hughes certainly brings out some focused performances out of the majority of his stars; those who can’t are only out to impair his sharpshooter’s accuracy. As a decent popcorn movie whose time has arrived a little late (blame the pandemic), it’s fine, and a few decent moments make it worth one’s time. And even if the fans will appreciate it, and I’m sure they will, it still comes at a price for its franchise future, peaking nicely, and then sliding down. Best to proceed carefully, and think peaceful thoughts. (C+; 3/5 Horns Up!)

Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard is currently playing in theaters; rated R for strong bloody violence throughout, pervasive language, and some sexual content; 99 minutes.