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‘Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard’ Review: Went big, should have gone home

The follow-up to 2017’s surprise hit makes some big swings way above its weight class.

Samuel L. Jackson, Antonio Banderas, Salma Hayek, and Ryan Reynolds in 'Hitman's Wife's Bodyguard'.
(Image: © Lionsgate)

Our Verdict

For all the effort on display from an expanded budget, there just isn’t enough indication of what that effort is ultimately for.

For

  • 🔫 Reynolds and Jackson still have great comic chemistry.
  • 🔫 Salma Hayek is making a meal of an underwritten character.
  • 🔫 Morgan Freeman's small role makes for a great gag.

Against

  • 🔫 The story is excessively overwritten and convoluted.
  • 🔫 The more cartoonish tone does no favors to the jokes that are actually clever.

The Hitman’s Bodyguard was something of a surprise hit in 2017. As an R-rated buddy action-comedy, it could reasonably expect to make its money back theatrically, but it was never the kind of film designed with franchising in mind or with the expectation that it would turn out a large enough audience to warrant a sequel. Yet here we are with Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard, down a definite article but bursting with star power and spectacle as only a substantially increased budget can buy. The only problem is that the filmmakers don’t seem to wholly understand what made the first film connect with its audience in the first place, and the result, while intermittently enjoyable, is distinctly inferior to its already passable predecessor.

The plotting of Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard is so tiresomely convoluted that it’s not worth getting into the weeds of it, which is a testament to how much the film needs to ricochet around its expanded cast for a story that is fundamentally at its best when focusing on two of the three titular characters. Michael Bryce (Ryan Reynolds), psychologically recovering from the events of the previous film and in danger of losing his bodyguarding license, is pulled into the machinations of Sonia Kincaid (Salma Hayek) to save her husband, hitman Darius Kincaid (Samuel L. Jackson), only for it to be revealed that Darius never wanted Bryce’s help in the first place. This somehow cascades into a storyline involving a rule-bending Interpol agent (Frank Grillo), a villainous Greek aristocrat (Antonio Banderas, truly the Greekest of actors), and Morgan Freeman in a role that forms the basis for one of the film’s best gags, though how all their pieces tie together seems absurdly incongruous for a movie ostensibly about the interplay between bodyguards and hitmen.

In the mire of its absurd contortions to connect the pieces of its overcomplicated story, there are still moments of genuine comedic charm, though the film is often at odds with itself in terms of what kind of comedy it would like to lean on. The tone is decidedly more cartoonish this time around, relying on scenarios that are much more bombastic than the previous film’s main conceit that two antagonists must find common ground to achieve a common goal. This isn’t inherently an issue, except that the film doesn’t seem to understand that the heightened reality has a tendency to smother the comedic potential of its larger-than-life leads. Reynolds gets some pretty great one-liners and Jackson is always great of an incredulous eye roll and a manic laugh, but they no longer feel like the eccentric exceptions of their world, but rather just the ones with the most lines. It’s hard to feel invested in the fights of frenemies when the film is more concerned with dropping everything but the anvil on Reynolds, only to have him bounce back from his injuries with minimal consequence and for no one to find that just a little bit odd.

The most wasted potential belongs to Hayek, who played something of a one-note character in the first film, only to have that note now be played even louder and more sustained. She is a talented enough actress to almost pull it off, but the constant interplay between Reynolds, Jackson, and Hayek feels unmotivated by anything more than the barest plot contrivance, as those motives often change from scene to scene while the writers try to make up their mind what the story actually is. Some occasionally good action beats do crop up here and there, though the gunplay is more impressive than the computer-assisted car chases this time around, and it becomes increasingly difficult to suspend one’s disbelief as the absurdity continues to heighten with minimal self-awareness. In fact, the film’s funniest joke actually does make a point of the bizarre lengths to which it needs to reach for spectacle, but it only works because it’s such an obvious exception compared to the stakes you’re expected to be invested in.

Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard does indeed serve its purpose as mindless summer popcorn fare. It’s a decent enough escape from summer heat into the air conditioning of a cinema, or, perhaps more fittingly, destined to be background noise as it fills time on your favorite cable network. It’s entirely watchable and occasionally gets a good laugh. But it doesn’t feel like a fitting continuation of the film that preceded it, nor is the reinvention sufficient enough to justify the creative risks it does take. For all the effort on display from an expanded budget, there just isn’t enough indication of what that effort is ultimately for.

Hitman's Wife's Bodyguard opens in theaters on June 16, 2021.