Blu-Ray Pick of the Week: The Hitman’s Bodyguard

“Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets” is also new to Blu-Ray this week.

With a title like “The Hitman’s Bodyguard,” you know the movie isn’t meant to be taken too seriously. Good thing, too, because it’s absurd almost to the point of all out comedy. The best thing about it is watching two incredibly charismatic actors—Ryan Reynolds and Samuel L. Jackson—fight, shoot, banter, and in general appear to have a really good time.

Jackson in particular looks like he is having a blast as hitman Darius Kincaid. His infectious smile lights up many scenes, tipping off the audience that he’s enjoying this crazy ride just as much as they are. In comparison, Reynolds’ highly rated professional bodyguard Michael Bryce is more of the straight man, but with the usual Reynolds quips and witticisms thrown in to give him some laughs as well.

The difference between the two men is expressed in the personalities of their characters. Kincaid is a more act first/think about it later, fly by the seat of your pants, let the chips fall where they may kind of guy. Bryce is the exact opposite. He is careful, calculating, and likes to think through multiple scenarios before deciding on the best course of action. Of course, when bad guys are chasing after you with guns, taking too long to think can be a bad thing.

“The Hitman’s Bodyguard” is essentially a remake of actor/director Clint Eastwood’s 1977 movie “The Gauntlet,” only done as an odd couple buddy road movie rather than a romance. Though it could be argued that as tensions soften between the two men and they learn to trust and develop an affinity for each other, there is some bromance happening.

The big baddie is disgraced Belarusian President Vladislav Dukhovich (Gary Oldman). In an introductory flashback we see what a nasty, brutal, and oppressive ruler this man is to his people. For his crimes, he is on trial in front of a tribunal at the International Criminal Court located in The Hague, Netherlands. For a short hand account of who this man is, think of former Yugoslavian President Slobodan Milošević, who was on trial in the early to mid-2000s for war crimes. Dukhovich even borrows from the Milošević playbook by regarding the trial as a farce and not recognizing the authority of the tribunal to punish him.

Interesting thing about witnesses to anything Dukhovich has done: they wind up dead. Kincaid is the last witness who can testify before the tribunal, and it is imperative that he gets there on time. After an Interpol convoy gets ambushed on their way to the Hague, the only survivors are Kincaid and Interpol agent Amelia Roussel (Elodie Yung). She manages to get Kincaid to a safe house, where she calls up an ex-boyfriend who she can trust to deliver Kincaid safely to the court on time: Bryce, who has her name plugged into his phone as “Pure Evil.”

What’s most surprising about “The Hitman’s Bodyguard” is that amid all of the chases, fights, shootouts, and arguing, there are some genuine character moments. Kincaid and Bryce are more than just diametrically opposed personalities. They each have histories and philosophical world views to back up why they are who they are. In particular is a very good conversation on a ferry that raises the question of who is worse: the hitman who kills bad people, or the bodyguard who protects them? It’s an interesting conundrum and each make valid points in their discussion, but Bryce does end the conversation with a capper that’s hard to top.

The reason Kincaid agrees to testify at the trial is so that his wife Sonia (Salma Hayek), who is locked up in prison for being associated with Kincaid, can go free. If “The Hitman’s Bodyguard” hits any false notes, it’s in the scenes with her. She’s just shrill and angry—and not much else. Thankfully, Hayek’s role is little more than a cameo, so we don’t have to tolerate her shrieking too much. Plus, in another flashback, we learn that she is not so innocent and should be locked up for at least one murder.

“The Hitman’s Bodyguard” also does something that a lot of action movies like to do: Forget injuries. Kincaid is shot in the leg during the ambush. For the rest of the movie, he walks with a limp due to the injury. However, when convenient, he does have the ability to move and jump around as if he isn’t injured at all. Adrenaline can only excuse so much. Kincaid really only is injured when it’s convenient to the story, and when it’s not—then no more injury. If only real life were that easy. But in fairness, it’s easy for us in the audience to forget that he is injured too when we’re having such a good time. Buy it on Amazon: The Hitman's Bodyguard [Blu-ray + DVD].

Also New This Week

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

A thought kept occurring to me throughout the 137 minutes that it takes to sit through “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets”: This movie looks really expensive. And it sucks.

But before I get into that, there is some good to this movie. I appreciate the imagination behind two things. The first is “the converter,” which is not a machine but rather a cute little animal that can swallow an object and replicate it by the dozens. The second is an under-used idea from early on in the movie, in which characters can explore different dimensions using special goggles and gloves. It’s an interesting and original way to handle the concept of multiple dimensions.

Now where to begin with the rest? Let’s start with the CGI, which looks about as good as it did in George Lucas’ “Star Wars” prequels. If this was 2005, that would be a compliment. In 2017, it is not. It looks synthetic and cheesy—even video games nowadays look better than what we see here.

Then there are the costumes. Director Luc Besson has a penchant for creating future worlds with ridiculous costumes, as he did with “The Fifth Element.” It worked in that movie, since those costumes just skirted the edge of silly. Here he goes overboard. The head gear in particular is not only impractical, it’s distracting. I can imagine that even the lowly, underpaid extras put on some of their costumes and immediately asked what they got themselves into.

The movie stars Dane DeHaan as Major Valerian and Cara Delevingne as Sergeant Laureline. They are the only two crew members on a military patrol ship charged with various peace-keeping missions throughout the universe. When an intergalactic incident involving a destroyed planet and the main human commander (Clive Owen) on board space station Alpha—aka the “City of a Thousand Planets”—takes place, the two set out to find the truth of what happened and make things right.

DeHaan is a reliable and likeable actor. Here he does his best to channel his inner Han Solo, complete with scruffy hair, deep voice, and roguish charm. He’s the title character and the high point of this movie.

Delevingne is another story. She looks like one of those pouty, stuck up supermodels who haven’t eaten in three days and are miserable because of it. Barely any emotion registers with her at all. She hardly even feels surprise when she tests out the converter to see how the little creature really works. Her expression of “Wow” was one of the most flat, boring line readings of what should be a moment of genuine shock and exasperation. To top it all off, she’s disrespectful to Valerian on at least two occasions after he gives orders, which is inappropriate since he is her commanding officer. If it wasn’t for the fact that he, for some inexplicable reason, is in love with this dull, flavorless, emotionally void chick, he’d most likely reprimand her for insubordination—and he’d have every right to do so.

Valerian supposedly wants to marry Laureline. I have no idea why, and it doesn’t help that DeHaan and Delevingne have zero chemistry together. It’s so lacking that I couldn’t help but wonder if these two actors hated each other in real life during filming. Not a single spark exists, and it’s not exactly as if they’re helped by the dialogue when we get cringeworthy, on the nose nuggets like this exchange:

Valerian: I’m a soldier. I play by the rules.
Lifeless Bitch, I mean, Laureline: Love is more powerful than any rules.

Ugh. Groan. And Skip it.

More New Releases: “Jabberwocky,” Criterion Blu-Ray debut of Terry Gilliam’s 1977 comedy/fantasy gem, starring Michael Palin as a medieval peasant mistaken as a kingdom’s only hope against a horrible monster; “Good Time,” with Robert Pattinson as a bank robber unable to evade those who are looking for him; “The Jungle,” about a group of friends who trek into the Bolivian jungle with a fraudulent guide, starring Daniel Radcliffe; and “Birth of the Dragon,” about Bruce Lee’s rise to fame in San Francisco in the 1960s, starring Philip Ng as Lee.

Andrew Hudak is a lifelong film lover. His column on Blu-Ray new releases appears every Tuesday. He lives in Connecticut.

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