When I left the Patrick Hughes-directed The Hitman’s Bodyguard (2017), the first thought I had was “Looney Tunes.” The way in which the narrative exploits the chemistry between its leads, Ryan Reynolds (Waiting…) and Samuel L. Jackson (Formula 51), the way the characters are designed to capitalize on the actors’ talents for exaggeration, and the way in which the action slowly builds across the film to ridiculous lengths: it’s all Looney Tunes. The stage having been set with their initial outing, Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard goes full-tilt from the get-go, utilizing the absolute best from its assured, pumped up, and most definitely game cast to give audiences even more antics, arguments, and body counts. The biggest difference between the first film and this follow-up is that it’s all out of Fs to give, so it’s up to you to be all-in from the jump. Though, to borrow a phrase from Michael Bryce, “boring is better.”
When audiences last saw former AAA-rated bodyguard Michael Bryce (Reynolds) and hitman with a heart of gold Darius Kincaid (Jackson), the two had just finished taking down dictator Vladislav Dukhovich (Gary Oldman). By protecting Kincaid, Bryce earned a shot at getting his license back and, by testifying against Dukhovich, Kincaid was able to trade his personal freedom for that of his wife Sonia (Salma Hayek). But to the victor does not go the spoils as the favor for Interpol has since sent Bryce into a spiral, so much so that he goes on sabbatical from bodyguarding in order to get his mind right. His peace, however, is short-lived when his vacation is interrupted by Sonia who needs his help to rescue Kincaid from capture. Next thing he knows, Bryce is caught up protecting not just Kincaid, but Sonia as well, as the threesome tumble their way into the path of Aristole Papdopolous (Antonio Banderas), a wealthy man with designs on European domination. Can Bryce, Kincaid, and Sonia pull it together long enough to save the day? Or will Europe go down the toilet like Bryce’s AAA rating?
If the above seemed like a mouthful, it’s going to seem that way in action, too. Though the runtime is close to the same as the first outing, the 99-minute sequel strangely feels longer in the execution. Part of this is due to the amount of setup required to properly use each of the characters within the narrative, which widens and narrows throughout. It may center on Bryce, but there’s a storyline with the Kincaids, with Aristole, and with new Interpol agent Bobby O’Neill (Frank Grillo) and his less than eager partner Ailso (Alice McMillan). The other part has mostly to do with a bit of reconfiguring of the characters themselves. For instance, the brief scenes with Hayek’s Sonia in Hitman are enough to steal the thunder from the leads without feeling overbearing or, in any way, untethered from reality. In HWB, the cuffs come off (literally and figuratively) and the intelligent yet volatile Sonia is somehow reduced to screaming insults and firing guns. Similarly, Bryce is reduced as well, leaning more into his psychological need for acceptance professionally, so that the comedy comes from his whining and complaining. Jackson as Kincaid is basically there to take names and kick asses, doing just about the same thing as he did before. This worked well when Reynolds’s Bryce could keep pace, but now, with so many other characters to navigate, it more often feels like the audience is being taken on the world’s worst family road trip through Europe.
Don’t get me wrong, the film is fun. The cast totally understands the tongue-in-cheek vibe of HWB and their performances match it beautifully. You’ve got a Bond-style villain in Banderas’s Aristole, chewing the scenery with each line of dialogue explaining his master plan to bring back Greece to its proper glory. Strangely, Oldman’s Dukhovich was far more threatening, though that may have to do with positioning Oldman’s character as deadly on his own merits versus Aristole being surrounded by his own private security team which provide quite a bit of fodder for the mayhem machine. It’s worth noting, by the way, that where Hitman stretched the bounds of collateral damage, HWB DNGAF. At all. In fact, that kind of describes the whole film to a T. It’s not just the enhanced violence of the film, the cartoon-like disregard for civilians, or the cavalier attitude toward interpersonal relationships, but the way HWB just doesn’t care whether it’s for you or not. It’s just going to put it all out there and let the chips fall where they may. An example: There’s a great hero moment from Bryce that’s undercut by the Aviation Gin display prominently placed behind the co-owner/actor. I didn’t spot any Mint Mobile adverts, but it wouldn’t shock me to discover some.
By the way, there’s little need to have seen the first film before watching this, as it does a fine job of offering up enough background to get the idea. There’ll be a few call-back jokes that won’t land as well, but, overall, this works as much as a standalone as it does a sequel. Have to give credit to character creator and original screenplay writer Tom O’Connor (The Hitman’s Bodyguard), as well as writers Brandon Murphy and Phillip Murphy, for managing to make the film entirely accessible and not wholly reliant on prior knowledge. Though the lovely duality of the protector of evil people who doesn’t kill being paired with the killer of evil people who will take you down with extreme prejudice is disappointingly replaced with odd couple comedy. Another great thing — and the main reason this reviewer was stoked to see HWB — is the cast itself. Reynolds and Jackson really play the miss-matched couple perfectly, though it’s frustrating to see their interpersonal relationship backslide after the progress of the first film simply because the film “needed” them to be in opposition for much of the comedy. Additionally, more Hayek in anything is an immediate improvement. She’s a Jack-of-all-trades, truly, and HWB allows her to lean into comedy more than she’s likely been able to before. Plus, any film which re-pairs Hayek and Banderas (co-stars in two films within the El Mariachi series) for even a short while must be watched. Sadly, though, for all the good, the film is too reliant on the ridiculous to be anything more than brief celluloid-based distraction.
Look, I’m all for cinematic shenanigans. The issue is that the script is trying to throw in anything that amused audiences in terms of verbal tête a tête or fisticuffs that everything in Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard feels amped to 11 with little regard for everything else. Just because you can doesn’t mean you should. Restraint, something which the initial outing possessed, helped the film produce laughs from start to finish. With the cuffs off in the sequel, it’s louder, sure, but that doesn’t make it better. Certainly treating Bryce’s emotional breakdown as comedy fodder seems a little low brow when there were so many other fine ways within the story to address the residual trauma of the previous film. Whether you walk out of Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard having enjoyed yourself or not, you’ll want to go on another road trip with this crew thanks to a charismatic cast. If Bryce bodyguards once more, we can only hope that the antics will be less personal and more situational.
In select theaters June 16th, 2021.
Head to the official Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard website for more information.
Final Score: 2.5 out of 5.