This movie didn’t need to work very hard to gain my favor. It’s an R-rated movie starring three actors who are really good at swearing. Ryan Reynolds brought crude humor to new heights last year in “Deadpool.” Salma Hayek always sounds exquisite and exotic when she goes on profanity-laced tirades in English or Spanish. Then there’s Samuel L. Jackson, who is widely considered one of the best cussers in cinematic history, particularly when it comes to a certain word that starts with M and eventually contains an F. If you were one of the people who was disappointed that Jackson’s one use of the MF word got bleeped out in the needlessly PG-13 remake of “Robocop,” fear not, he more than makes up for it here.
To be clear, I am not impressed by naughty words alone. Often I think of people who use these words as deviants because they can’t express themselves without jumping to words they know to be taboo. And of course the words are inappropriate for most occasions. But an R-rated movie about snarky adults who constantly find themselves amidst gunfire and explosions is definitely the right occasion, so I don’t feel guilty about laughing at the swearing in this movie.
Notorious hitman Darius Kincaid (Jackson) is set to deliver testimony that can take down a ruthless dictator (Gary Oldman). The problem is that he needs to be transported across Europe in order to testify, and the dictator has assassins everywhere. Interpol insists he’s in good hands, but of course there’s a leak, and the convoy transporting him is immediately attacked. The agent in charge (Elodie Yung) can’t call her Interpol colleagues for help, so she has to reach out to her ex-boyfriend, bodyguard Michael Bryce (Reynolds), who is furious at her over the death of one of his clients. It’s supposed to be a secret who killed the client, but which hitman do you think it was?
Bryce takes the job, but almost quits straight away when he finds out the client is Kincaid. The two don’t like each other and have tried to kill one another on numerous occasions (which means they’ve failed on numerous occasions, odd given Kincaid’s knack for job completion). The two go on a road trip, bickering and bantering as they try to outdo one another when it comes to escaping, stealing, and killing. Kincaid gives Bryce advice on winning back his ex-girlfriend, using his own relationship with his imprisoned wife (Hayek) as a shining example. Bryce, in turn, kills about one in ten of the people trying to kill Kincaid.
The action scenes are uneven. Sometimes you get a sequence as crisp as Reynolds’ fight with a goon inside some kind of workshop with lots of dangerous goodies lying around. They transition so easily between weapons that there are hardly any edits. For one brief shining moment, the Reynolds of “Deadpool” is on display, as opposed to the rest of the movie, where he comes off as a petty child (he actually has to be told by Jackson not to deliver an unsolicited “I forgive you” to his unrepentant ex). Other times you get terrible green screen and unconvincing fireballs. But even when the action is bad, the actors can be counted on to punctuate it with gleefully salacious one-liners.
I know constant swearing is a cheap way to get a laugh, but it doesn’t sound cheap when it’s in the hands of experts like Reynolds, Hayek, and Jackson. There’s an art to swearing that requires timing and presence. Reynolds knows it well, Hayek is even better, and Jackson is a virtuoso. The performances are a credit to “The Hitman’s Bodyguard,” which is good because the plot and action usually aren’t. It’s a pretty unremarkable odd-couple action movie otherwise. I know I said this movie doesn’t have to work hard to gain my favor, but I wish it wouldn’t stop at “doesn’t have to work hard.”
Robert R. Garver is a graduate of the Cinema Studies program at New York University. His weekly movie reviews have been published since 2006.