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Comfortably Numb 

The Hitman's Wife's Bodyguard serves its junk in a familiar and reassuring package.

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click to enlarge LIONSGATE FILMS
  • Lionsgate Films
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Given the upheaval of the past year, it's only natural that, as people start to consider going back to movie theaters, they're going to seek out the familiar. It's not as though movie theaters weren't already filled with the familiar before the pandemic, of course; sequels, remakes, franchise entries and other comforting formulas had been dominating the box office for decades. But in These Uncertain Times™, the appeal of the recognizable was bound to be evident—and the early successes of releases like Godzilla vs. Kong, A Quiet Place Part II and Cruella are proving the point.

The Hitman's Wife's Bodyguard feels like a bit of an outlier in this conversation, since the 2017 original The Hitman's Bodyguard was hardly the kind of culture-shaping hit that screamed for further installments. It did a respectable $75 million at the North American box office, $176 million worldwide, and I wouldn't be shocked if not one of those ticket purchases ended with the conversation, "You know what I can't wait to see? A sequel to that movie."

But The Hitman's Wife's Bodyguard offers familiarity in a much broader sense. Sure, it brings back Ryan Reynolds as Michael Bryce, the disgraced former bodyguard who once protected hired killer Darius Kincaid (Samuel L. Jackson) while escorting him to testify at The Hague. Here he's experiencing a sort of existential crisis as he contemplates life without his bodyguarding career, and attempting a vacation in Italy when Darius' volatile wife Sonia (Salma Hayek), effectively kidnaps him, dragging him into an international threat involving a Greek tycoon (Antonio Banderas) who wants to make Europe pay for not bailing out the Greek economy.

The details of the accompanying supervillain-ish plot are irrelevant, and attempting to follow the plot of The Hitman's Wife's Bodyguard in any way is an exercise in masochism. The screenplay—credited to original Hitman's Bodyguard writer Tom O'Connor and first-timers Brandon and Philip Murphy—darts from the premise that Darius has been kidnapped, to the Bryce/Darius/Sonia trio working undercover for an INTERPOL agent (Frank Grillo), to Bryce seeking out the help of his legendary ex-bodyguard stepfather (Morgan Freeman). And while it all might be comprehensible in the most literal sense, it is also all utterly beside the point.

That's because nobody is here to follow the continuing onscreen adventures of Michael Bryce and Darius Kincaid; they're here to follow the continuing onscreen adventures of Ryan Reynolds and Samuel L. Jackson. The original film worked largely as a mismatched buddy comedy because it cashed in on the most popular iterations of the two stars' personalities: Reynolds being acerbic and foul-mouthed á la Deadpool, and Jackson being intense and foul-mouthed á la Pulp Fiction. The Hitman's Wife's Bodyguard doubles down on that formula, with Hayek joining her two co-stars in what amounts to a three-way "motherfucker-saying" competition. If you're coming to this movie to hear people who have gotten wealthy for saying "fuck" in movies continue to say "fuck" in movies, you're going to get your money's worth.

Which is fortunate, because nearly everything else going on here is garbage. Returning director Patrick Hughes chops his action sequences into tiny incomprehensible morsels, banking mostly on the slapstick humor of throwing so much bodily harm at Bryce that the character basically turns into a human Wile E. Coyote. Banderas barely seems to be breaking a sweat as he purrs his bad-guy dialogue, saving all his energy for the Desperado reunion with Hayek that offers yet another level of "oh yeah, I've seen this before." There's almost an aggressive sense that this movie does not give a solitary shit about making sense, as long as it provides ample space for the principal cast members to paint vast canvases of profanity for our entertainment.

Do they deliver? I suppose so. Hayek actually feels the most fully committed in conveying the sheer craziness of Sonia, while Reynolds and Jackson are professional without ever doing anything truly memorable. Then again, a movie like The Hitman's Wife's Bodyguard isn't so much about being memorable itself as about making you think about other movies that were memorable. It's crap, but it's reassuring crap. Right now, that feels like the right formula for getting people back into theaters.

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