Hitman has the tiny, tiny distinction as one of the better video game adaptations out there. Not that I have any experience with the games, or that distinction is anything to be proud of, but as a silly, overcooked actioner Hitman is not as horrible as its Ave Maria-infused trailers (they had the word “Brilliance!” flash across the screen for some reason) would lead you to believe. It’s just a formulaic, dopey action flick. Strip away everything that identifies it as an adaptation, like the barcode on the back of Hitman’s neck – and the tacked-on backstory – and Hitman has all the tenets of “the hitman with a heart” sub-genre. You know it, it’s what Luc Besson based his entire career around: Nikita, then later Leon the Professional, before he finally settled with producing The Transporter movies – oh, and this one. (Others I would include in the genre are some Westerns, samurai flicks and especially Ghost Dog: Way of the Samurai, and even the Rurouni Kenshin anime.)
The story is basically the same as those: the Hitman kills but he’s lonely and his world is turned upside-down by a sudden, steamy female presence. He even showers the same sad way as Leon.
So, there’s nothing new to be found here but it’s a miracle there’s anything to be found at all. Before I said the movie was overcooked. For proof, there are at least 700 producers attached to this, including Besson himself and Vin Diesel, who was originally attached to star as the bald title character. As if the mysterious rank of “producer” wasn’t … mystifying enough apparently the director was replaced midway as well, so the guy they brought in had to salvage whatever was left. That means a globetrotting story way more confusing than it ought to be, some god-awful ADR work and a load of hokey dreck that feels like stuffing in what should be a rather streamlined movie. Action scenes are a staple of action movies – at least as I understand them – but when they just happen for no reason other than “Enough talking, let’s produce swords out of nowhere and battle!” I can’t help but check my watch and wonder if I should hit “next” on my DVD remote. A lot of the movie just feels like this wasn’t the movie that was meant to be, most likely the result of (cliche alert!) too many cooks in the kitchen.
The most glaring example of technical tactlessness is one the final scenes with Henry Ian Cusick who Lost fans will remember as Desmond Hume, the guy who’s “unstuck in time.” The Hitman visits him to kill him to get the real villain out in the open – or something. Desmond never shows up until this point yet the camera barely settles on him for more than a nanosecond. His scene, edited and mangled to the point where his character is barely focused in frame, is choppier than Chinese food. He spends nearly all of his time offscreen spouting stupid dialogue in an atrocious Russian accent that I don’t think is even his. His voice must have been dubbed or they lost the majority of his footage, so they had to scrape together an already useless scene from mere scraps.
The other snafu involves two Interpol detectives, one of them played by the snarly villain from Mission: Impossible II, who just aren’t interesting enough to warrant the amount of attention the movie gives them. Their plot has them chasing down the Hitman. And that’s all they do. Like Lupin III bamboozling Inspector Zenigata – but nowhere near as entertaining – they keep getting sidetracked or just plain shot up and all they do is lot of repeating of dialogue and situations we’ve seen since forever. I started to nod off around the sixth time they’ve lamented Hitman’s 78th narrow escape.
The Hitman – boy, am I tired of typing that word – is Agent 47. You see, the organization he was trained and raised in gives their agents numbers, not names. It also has something to do with the Vatican though it’s never clear exactly what that is. Instead of Mr. Diesel, Timothy Olyphant fills in 47’s shoes and he’s way better than he was in Die Hard 4, though far below his seething sheriff in Deadwood, but hey, based on his work in that I can see why he gets cast. He’s a quiet sort of badass with a whispery voice which offsets his odd baby face looks, and his character has an interesting quirk, especially for this genre – he’s no good with the ladies. Blame the strict Catholic killer upbringing. It’s the one refreshing bit in the whole movie as he never gets it on with the hot little Russian dish who keeps him company most of the time. Played by one of the upcoming Bond girls in Quantum of Solace, she’s an abused prostitute of course, a hooker with a heart of gold. The surprising thing about her – and their relationship, is it never gets annoying. That they never consummate it is the one refreshing thing in the whole movie and the only thing that works. Too bad it’s surrounded by so much distracting fluff. Even one of the Hitman video games makes a cameo. Which of the 434 producers had that bright idea?
If I’m to pull one interesting thing from the whole movie it has to be the whole idea of copies. 47 is just one in a series of other bald Christian (?) murderers. The main conspiracy plot is something about replacing the Russian president with an evil body double. And I guess that sums up the movie. It’s another in a long line of very similar dopey action flicks. It’s not Ghost Rider bad – nowhere near that bad – but it’s not that great either. Shame because they had something there for awhile. A killer embarrassed around women could’ve been a lot more fun. Instead it’s poor man’s Leon.