By Dwight Brown, NNPA News Wire Film Critic
On a moment’s notice, these three eccentric actors can bring the crazy. Toss in cursing, car chases, gun fights, con games, whining, denying and betrayals and Ryan Reynolds, Salma Hayek and Samuel L. Jackson are in their glory.
The vehicle for their sardonic deceptions is this sequel to 2017’s The Hitman’s Bodyguard. In that violent tale the world’s top bodyguard, Michael Bryce (Reynolds), was hired to protect Darius Kincaid (Jackson) an equally smarmy hitman who was testifying at an International Criminal Court. Fast forward a few years and the hitman needs protection again. But this time he sends his con artist wife Sonia (Hayek) to round up Bryce, who has since lost his AAA rating, feels like a failure and is angling for a comeback. At stake is the EU’s destruction, as plotted by the diabolical Greek billionaire Aristotle Papadopoulos (Antonio Banderas).
Original director Patrick Hughes and screenwriter Tom O’Connor are back on board for this act/com crime spree that takes the scenic route around Croatia, Italy, the UK and Slovenia. The locations (UK’s Natural History Museum, Trieste, Portofino), environs (countryside, coastal towns, cities), architecture, streets, waterways and crowd scenes are well shot (DP Terry Stacey), staged (production designer Russell De Rozario) and art directed (Jack Berk).
There isn’t a wrinkle in anyone’s well-styled little black jumpsuit or yacht attire (costume designer Stephanie Collie, Peaky Blinders) and the pacing (editors Michael J. Duthie, Jack Hutchings) of the go-big-or-go-home action scenes (supervising stunt coordinator Greg Powell) produces an explosive verve (Hiram Bleetman special effects). There are some telltale instances when debris from blowups look too fake and expose the film’s flaws and nothing on view is as polished or innovative as the footage from a Mission Impossible or Bond movie. Still, the behind-the-scenes crew deserves as much credit for the film’s incessant mania as the above the marquee cast.
Reynolds hasn’t been this much fun to watch since the even more depraved Deadpool. Through therapy and discipline, Bryce promises to put his artillery down. Reynolds plays this reluctant restraint like a kid determined not to stick his hand in the cookie jar, though you know any resolve will fade. As he grouses, it’s a perfect counterpart to Jackson’s crass, bombastic, menacing hitman persona.
You hire Samuel L. Jackson, and his s—t is in your face nonstop. It’s like you’re being attacked by a rabid pit bull that’s all mouth, teeth and bulging eyes. Hayek releases her inner-witch-devil self with glee. Her Sonia, a working woman/wife pining for motherhood, multitasks as a go-between, instigator and trigger-happy killer. Banderas as the villain is having a campy old time, like he’s acting in a Pedro Almodóvar movie. His Aristotle is completely oblivious when Bryce derides his flamboyant attire. Bryce: “It’s like Liberace banged a set of curtains!” Frank Grillo as an Interpol agent, Morgan Freeman as a duplicitous dad and the army of stunt doubles are all on top of their game.
Hughes knows how to take make a moderately priced film look like it had a mega million-dollar budget. You’re pulled into the excessive action sequences. You laugh at the depraved verbal and physical humor. You wince at the relentless violence, which is not as graphic as that in John Wick movies, but respectable for the genre. Even though THWB stretches reality beyond its limits, it’s fun to watch on a big screen and will likely be better received and have a longer life on streaming services and late-night cable.
O’Connor’s storyline (co-written with Phillip Murphy and Brandon Murphy) is never more than serviceable. It sets up the characters’ predicaments, sends them on their way and lines them up for sequels. It’s as if he left space and the heavy lifting up to the three leads, who often seem to be joyously adlibbing as Reynolds is unapologetically snarky and Hayek and Jackson hurl F and MF bombs like hand grenades.
This is pure “R” rated escapism meant for act/com fans. Park your snooty intellect at the door. Ditch your skepticism for 99 minutes and give the tech crew, Reynolds, Hayek and Jackson a round of applause. This kind of senseless comic debauchery and mayhem can put a smirk on your face.
In theaters June 16, 2021.