Feeling very much like a throwback to action-comedies of the 1980's and 90's, "The Hitman's Bodyguard" arrives in theaters as the last of the summer season's big, mindless entertainments. The movie falls squarely in the long tradition of buddy flicks, pairing two characters who are polar opposites and forcing them to begrudgingly work together to survive: think "48 Hrs.," "Lethal Weapon," or "Theodore Rex." It's nowhere near the quality of those classics, of course, but the standards of late-summer film releases are a low bar, and one which "The Hitman's Bodyguard" just manages to clear. You could do a lot worse.
Ryan Reynolds stars as Michael Bryce; once a highly successful security agent, Bryce's career nosedived spectacularly when a high-profile client was assassinated on his watch. Now the only jobs he gets are the ones no one else wants. He's eager to earn back his triple-A status, which is why he reluctantly accepts when his INTERPOL agent ex, Amelia (Elodie Yung), calls in a favor. She wants him to protect his bitter rival, a notorious hitman named Darius Kincaid (Samuel L. Jackson), and transport him from London to The Hague, where he's set to testify in the trial of a genocidal, Eastern European dictator (played by Gary Oldman).
At first, Bryce isn't so keen to sign on; he holds Amelia responsible for his professional implosion. But she's desperate: it's become clear that there's a mole in her organization, which means that an outsider is the only one who can be trusted to deliver Kincaid by the court-mandated deadline. To make it there, they'll just have to avoid being killed by the endless stream of assassins and mercenaries on their tail.
Along the way, personalities naturally clash: Kincaid likes to fly by the seat of his pants, and Bryce's M.O. is strictly regimented; Bryce protects clients, and it's Kincaid's job to eliminate them. They're like the odd couple, if Felix and Oscar were infinitely more foul-mouthed and periodically paused their bickering to straight-up murder people.
Reynolds and Jackson play off each other well, and their star-powered charisma helps elevate the sometimes middling material they're given. Salma Hayek provides another of the film's highlights, going way over-the-top as Kincaid's wrongfully incarcerated wife.
Director Patrick Hughes ("The Expendables 3") and writer Tom O'Connor keep to a recipe of punchy violence paired with a screwball energy. The plot leans toward the generic, but the tone keeps things lively, even if it never quite approaches the levels of irreverent hilarity the filmmakers are aiming for. Some dodgy greenscreen work aside, there's a couple of fun action sequences, including a boat chase through the canals of Amsterdam and a fight that sends Reynolds and a henchman crashing through a hardware store.
You know exactly what to expect from "The Hitman's Bodyguard" -- everyone is working within their wheelhouse in service of a well-worn formula. But as goofy late-summer fun, it gets the job done.