I recently saw Peter Greenaway’s masterful The Cook, The Thief, His Wife & Her Lover and was blown away. I’d missed it initially, mostly because I hadn’t been born when it came out and thereafter because I hadn’t yet joined my film club when it was screened. I’m not saying I was expecting such heights from Patrick Hughes’ similarly-named sequel to his 2017 film The Hitman’s Bodyguard (which, full disclosure, I still haven’t finished) but I certainly had a standard upon which to base my criticisms while attending the preview screening of The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard. A silly, messy action comedy, this film did not even attempt to touch that standard (quelle surprise!) but that certainly doesn’t mean I didn’t have a roaring good time seeing it in cinemas with a free beer and popcorn.
The film stars Ryan Reynolds again as Michael Bryce (the bodyguard), Samuel L. Jackson as Darius Kincaid (the hitman), Salma Hayek as Sonia (his wife), Antonio Banderas as Aristotle Papadopolous (her ex) and Richard E. Grant as himself (I kid, but he’s played too many coked-up old Brits for it to be purely fiction.) Frank Grillo annoys as a cliched, dickhead agent who hates Europe, and actual deity Morgan Freeman pops in for a surprise.
In the first film, Reynolds’ Bryce is an arrogant yet boring bodyguard who loves to stress the importance of seatbelts. The comedy is supposed to come from his contrasting demeanor with Jackson’s Kincaid, but they end up just yelling their lines at each other, trying to out-funny the other. Jackson says his favourite compound word a lot, and Reynolds plays it straight while almost looking the audience in the eye and saying “get a load of this guy.” They don’t have a lot of chemistry with each other, and the film can’t seem to nail the tone. The original opens with Gary Oldman shooting a woman and child in front of a family man, and Hughes tries to weave in Whitney Houston’s most famous tune a little later in a reference too obvious for my tastes. This is all just stuff I noticed when trying to watch The Hitman’s Bodyguard after the fact – I still haven’t finished it, and I probably won’t.
The good news is, The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard actually does a (slightly) better job blending the comedy and action. I went into this really not expecting to laugh and I didn’t at the first few gags, despite the rest of the audience cackling through their pale ales and spluttering their popcorn on the floor. But this one finally got to me for a couple of reasons.
The first is that Michael Bryce is much more palatable – he’s lost his licence and his confidence has really taken a hit, and the humbleness this adds to the character makes for more laughs. There’s nothing funny about someone who has it together, and thankfully in this outing, Bryce most definitely does not. Is Reynolds reverting to a softened Deadpool? Yes. But it pays to stick with what you know.
The second is that Salma Hayek is allowed much more screen time and a leading role, and it does loads for the chemistry of the three main characters. While Reynolds and Jackson don’t really work that well together comedically, adding Hayek in as a manic yet motherly mediator totally changes the atmosphere. Like George and Elaine without Jerry (I can’t get through a review without a Seinfeld reference, excuse me) the conversation just doesn’t flow without her. She also has the best body of any woman I’ve ever seen, let alone one in her 50s whose age is poked fun at multiple times throughout the film. She takes it all in her tiny little stride (the lady is shorter than I am, God bless her) and towers over the rest as the mouthy Mexican matriarch of the story.
Hughes seems to have decided to create an all-out farce with this film and for those who appreciate that kind of nonsensical, over-the-top comedy, it’ll probably prove a good time. There are moments of clever editing that feel like they belong in Hot Fuzz, references to a particular Kurt Russell/Goldie Hawn film of the 80s that are actually followed through nicely, and Antonio Banderas carrying off a heavy Spanish accent while playing the Greekest of all Greeks that ever Greeked is Sean-Connery-in-Highlander level absurdist gold.
The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard is not going to go down as one of the great action comedies of our time, but it is at least funny and it is most definitely an improvement on the original. That doesn’t raise it particularly high, but I give it 5 motherfuckers out of 10. (In Cinemas June 24)