Five decades into a career spanning two centuries and almost 200 credits, Samuel L. Jackson shows little sign of slowing down. His latest credit atop the pile is The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard, the not particularly wanted and/or needed sequel to 2017’s surprise box-office hit. The sequel reunites Jackson with director Patrick Hughes (The Expendables 3, Red Hill), co-star Ryan Reynolds (the titular “bodyguard”), and Salma Hayek, stepping into a co-lead role as Sonia Kincaid, the “wife” in an otherwise awkward title. Jackson, the titular “hitman,” continues to bring his seemingly inexhaustible trademark zeal for what the federal rules of evidence would call an “excited utterance(s),” but everyone else calls F-bombs. It’s no longer enough, though, especially where a lazily scripted, haphazardly directed, desperately unfunny film like The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard is concerned.
Jackson returns as Darius Kincaid, an expletive-prone, international assassin-for-hire with an explosive temper and a shoot-first, sort-things-out-later approach to interacting with the real world. In The Hitman’s Bodyguard, a broad, R-rated action-comedy, Darius became an inadvertent do-gooder and onetime hero in the final moments. This “twist” was no surprise to anyone paying the slightest attention to The Hitman’s Bodyguard‘s first and second acts. Kincaid and Reynolds’ Bryce saved the day along with Kincaid’s wife, Sonya (Hayek). Said wife stole the original as a sociopath/con-artist who was fiercely and supremely dedicated to her husband’s well-being even to the detriment of disposable henchmen and the occasional bystander or four. The body count, not to mention the ultra-violence, may have been on the high side for a throwaway action-comedy. Since it was supposedly meant in good fun and cheer, though, there was little to do except shrug and move on to whatever Hollywood had in store for moviegoers next.
The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard picks up more or less where its predecessor left off. Bryce, a AAA executive security expert, is fighting a losing battle to retain his license and hold onto his sanity after the previous film left him a pariah. To that end, he’s gone into counseling with a therapist (Rebecca Front). Also to that end, Bryce’s therapist, long since tired of his constant whining and complaining about his professional failures, “graduates” him from therapy. He strongly advises that Bryce take a firearm-free vacation to the island of Capri, Italy. (“Like the pants?” in case you’re wondering about the level of humour audiences can expect from The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard.) That lasts as long as it takes for Sonia, defined by her twin obsessions (Darius, biological motherhood), to find a vacationing Bryce and then forcibly volunteering him to save a kidnapped Darius from low-level Italian mobsters.
Moving Hayek’s character from a glorified cameo to essentially a co-lead made sense from a certain point of view, specifically since it adds a layer of superficial novelty to an otherwise threadbare, been-there, snoozed-through-that plot involving a megalomaniacal Greek billionaire Aristotle Papadopolous (Antonio Banderas, in ham mode), obsessed with returning Greece back to the preeminent status it enjoyed several millennia ago. Papadopolous’s sub-basement-Bond plan involves permanently knocking out Western Europe’s digital infrastructure (or something), a super-encoded hard drive (or something), and a gigantic, diamond-tipped mega-drill out of the Austin Powers series. Meant as an object of ridicule for his aggressively metrosexual ways, Papadopolous also has a not-so-secret connection to Sonia’s newly convoluted past.
While Papadopolous and Bryce stand on one side of the toxic masculine divide, Darius and a certain Oscar-winning, elderly actor stand on the other. Darius spends most of The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard berating Bryce for his personal and professional failures, a running joke that becomes increasingly unfunny and frustrating as The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard hits the one-hour mark. Even Bryce’s near-invulnerability loses its potential for humour through overuse. But it’s the over-reliance on Jackson and Hayek repeatedly yelling their lines at full volume, combined with chaotically, incoherently directed action scenes, that ultimately turns The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard into an unpleasant, torturous viewing experience. And that’s not even getting into the producers grossly exploiting Hayek’s talents as a performer by turning her into an ugly, shrewish Latinx stereotype. Some things in Hollywood, it seems, never change.