Dir: Patrick Hughes. Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Samuel L Jackson, Salma Hayek, Frank Grillo, Richard E Grant, Antonio Banderas. Cert 15, 100 mins
I should give the makers of the deeply inelegant Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard a little credit. They did, at least, address my issues with its 2017 predecessor. That film relied on the odd-couple dynamics of its titular hitman (Samuel L Jackson’s Darius Kincaid) and his bodyguard (Ryan Reynolds’s Michael Bryce) for all its action-comedy hijinks, relegating the “wife” (Salma Hayek’s Sonia Kincaid) to a largely background role. That strong a dose of casual smarm and heightened self-awareness felt like witnessing two rusty pieces of metal being rubbed together. No one could decide who was the straight man and who was the comedic foil, leaving two talented men to simply scream quips at each other.
If there’s something in its sequel worthy of praise, then, it’s franchise creator and screenwriter Tom O'Connor’s decision to turn its central duo into a trio. Michael, on a downward spiral since losing his bodyguard licence in the last film, becomes the unwilling third wheel on Darius and Sonia’s second honeymoon – in truth, a mission to stop a terrorist plot that would destroy much of Europe’s infrastructure.
It's Hayek who tries valiantly to hold together the seams of a film that almost immediately starts unravelling. And she’s doing it despite O’Connor’s script – which he co-wrote with Brandon Murphy and Phillip Murphy – doing its best to undermine her. It aggressively objectifies her, while giving her nothing to play with beyond another “fiery Latina” stereotype and overwhelming maternal urges. But Hayek’s always had a sure handle on the absurd. She can deliver lines like “I’m gonna put on a strap-on and f*** your dreams until they become nightmares” with such absolute conviction that it can turn even the laziest piece of dialogue (and there are plenty of those) into an amusing bit of eccentricity.
Her presence even seems to have a calming effect on the rest of the cast. Jackson is more relaxed in the role – there’s genuine joy interspersed between all the repeated “motherf***ers”. Reynolds is able to lean further into his natural weirdness. There’s a sight gag involving a chair swing that feels both entirely on brand for him and around 10 times funnier than any other joke in the film. Hayek even gets to reignite some of the onscreen chemistry she shared with Antonio Banderas in the Desperado films – albeit briefly, as he swans in to play the film’s velvet-slippered villain Aristotle Papadopoulos. Yes, the character is Greek. No, he does not attempt the accent in any way, shape or form.
But these are small graces in a film that still has no idea of what it actually wants to be. The action clumps along, mixing picturesque European locales with choppy edits and ungainly camera angles. It’s also oddly violent – one early terrorist attack brings with it a significant death toll – especially for a film that wants to be broad and slapstick enough to let Reynolds easily walk off multiple concussions. If Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard ever gets another sequel, maybe they should just let Hayek sit in the director’s chair.