The Hitman’s Bodyguard

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"You heard me! I will ALWAYS love you!"

The poster for “The Hitman’s Bodyguard” parodies the Whitney Houston/Kevin Costner “The Bodyguard,” with Ryan Reynolds lovingly carrying Samuel L. Jackson to safety. It’s a terrific spoof, and it hints at the comedy potential in the premise of an assassin needing to hire protection.

Unfortunately, the poster is more clever than anything in the movie, which is sporadically funny but completely devoid of personality. To achieve that despite having two very personality-heavy stars is quite something. Leave it to the director of “The Expendables 3” (Patrick Hughes) and the writer of nothing (Tom O’Connor), I guess.

Reynolds plays Michael Bryce, once an esteemed “executive protection agent” who’s been on the skids since losing a client two years ago. Through a convoluted series of events involving his ex-girlfriend, Interpol agent Amelia Roussel (Elodie Yung), Bryce ends up guarding Darius Kincaid (Jackson), an imprisoned hitman who’s going to testify at the International Criminal Court and must be transported safely to The Hague.

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The man on trial, brutal Belarusian dictator Vlad Dukhovich (Gary Oldman, obviously), has tentacles everywhere and has killed or silenced all previous witnesses. (The scenes depicting his evil are unnecessarily grim and graphic for what’s supposed to be an action romp.) But if someone doesn’t show up by 5:00 on an arbitrary day with hard physical evidence of Dukhovich’s atrocities, the ICC has no choice but to let him go! That’s just how the ICC works.

One smart move the screenplay makes is to give Bryce and Kincaid a history together, as Bryce and his clients have often been Kincaid’s targets. This allows them to quarrel as soon as Roussel puts them together, rather than having to wait until their personality differences — Bryce is cautious, by-the-book; Kincaid is loose and improvisational — emerge and put them at odds. (What if there were a movie about two strangers who were forced to travel together who instantly got along and became pals? Would the movie even work?)

Kincaid is testifying as part of a deal to free his imprisoned wife, Sonia (Salma Hayek), a lethal Mexican whose backstory is barely hinted at. (Apart from two flashbacks set in a bar, the only place we ever see Hayek is in a prison cell.) She swears as prodigiously as her husband, though, and Kincaid’s recounting of the night they met is one of the film’s highlights, an edgy combination of choreographed violence, sensuality, and humor. The movie needed more of that — because otherwise, it’s a standard action-comedy with a formulaic plot, no different from countless others.

And my, does it ever go on and on. The chasing, the running, the fighting, one sequence after another, as Bryce and Kincaid make their way to The Hague. There’s an enormous chase scene shot in Amsterdam, which looks wonderful, but after a few minutes all I could think was: How is this still going on? How big is Amsterdam?!

Still, were it not for the repetitive action and off-putting slaughter (SO MANY dudes get killed point-blank), I’d have been on the thumbs-weakly-up side of what is otherwise an amusing, mindless caper. Reynolds, Jackson, and Hayek are fun to watch. But those other factors, like the gunshot to Kincaid’s leg early in the story, have an impact from which the movie cannot recover.

C+ (1 hr., 58 min.; R, pervasive profanity, abundant shooting and killing.)