There are sure-thing blockbusters, and films bound for awards-season gold. And then there are the ones that answer to a higher calling — the in-flight “why not?” we click when all the tiny pretzels and blue potato chips are gone and the map icon says Cleveland is still three long, empty hours away. The Hitman’s Bodyguard is strictly an Economy Coach experience, but it’s brainlessly fun enough in a late-’90s Brett Ratner buddy-comedy kind of way. (If there wasn’t the stray smartphone on screen and another director’s name above the title, it might have been exactly that.)
Ryan Reynolds is Michael Bryce, a type-A “executive protection agent” who prides himself on never having lost a client, until a Japanese arms dealer is assassinated on his watch. Saddled with the bodyguard equivalent of a one-star Yelp rating, he is reduced to working small-time side jobs when an ex-flame at Interpol (French actress Elodie Yung) calls in a favor: She’s been charged with getting hitman Darius Kincaid (Samuel L. Jackson) safely to the Hague to testify against a Belarusian strongman (Gary Oldman) who has so far managed to eliminate every other witness in the war-crimes case against him.
Something never quite adjacent to hilarity ensues, though Jackson deserves a lot of the credit for what works; playing the loose, all-id Oscar to Reynolds’ fussy Felix, he just wants to enjoy life and get back to his wrongly incarcerated wife (Salma Hayek playing that freshest of stereotypes, a Latin spitfire). The script careens between European set pieces—a van full of singing Italian nuns, the sun-dappled canals of Amsterdam — like a Zagat guide gone berserk, and kill shots pop off with startling frequency, a Jackson Pollock splatter of casual, almost incidental violence. If you want to see Oldman speak Russian and murder a small child, or watch Hayek do prison yoga and find new ways to conjugate Spanish obscenities, step right up. If not, just recline your seatback and nap till it’s over. C+