No pretensions here. It's named Hitman and it's based on a video game, so
there's no disguising the fact that it is intended as a guilty pleasure film.
Fair enough. I like guilty pleasures as much as the next guy, but gratuitous
violence and video games are not my particular guilty pleasures, so I was
dreading this one. I figured the only thing that could make it worse would be
a maverick werewolf cop who doesn't play by the rules. And by "the rules" I mean
the cop rules, not the werewolf rules. The cop rules are fairly strict, while
werewolves have a pretty informal code which mostly centers around not
attacking any fellow werewolves. Professional courtesy. And also, when they
are working their day jobs or there is no full moon, they generally give other
werewolves a 15% discount. Any other behavior is pretty much within their
boundaries, so a werewolf cop who doesn't play by the werewolf rules wouldn't
be much different from one who does. Maybe he would let a fellow werewolf off
with a warning instead of giving him a ticket.
Anyway, I was wrong about Hitman. It's a pretty decent flick.
Of course, some of the film's expected liabilities are inherent to the
genre and could not be overcome. Obviously, a film based on a video game about
a hit man can only be so good because a vast amount of running time will have
to be devoted to mindless mass slaughter. The only way to make that work is to
make it entirely tongue in cheek, and Hitman does lean partially in that
direction, but in general it takes its blood and guts seriously. Despite that,
the film makes absolutely no effort to be believable. Although Hit Guy is a
bald dude with a bar code tattooed on the back of his neck, he makes no effort
to disguise himself as he wanders through the world pursued by every
counter-agent on the planet. Even little kids on the streets know him. "Hey,
mommy, there's that killer guy. Can we get his autograph?" Call me crazy, but
if I were Hittie and wanted to travel freely around airports, railway stations
and city streets, I'd consider a wig. Because the film never makes a
commitment either to realism, ala The Bourne Identity, or to parody, ala Shoot 'Em
Up, it lives in an uncomfortable limbo between those extremes, and that
doesn't really work.
The plot barely exists. It's about as interesting as one of those
old-fashioned black-and-white film strips in elementary American History
class. You remember them, the ones where the sound track made a ringing noise
when the teacher was supposed to click over to the next slide. And it's not
like a film strip about something interesting like the Civil War or
Prohibition, but like one that explains every intricate background detail
behind the Wilmot Proviso. I hear that those educational films are all
animated and automated now. Some of 'em are even in color. I wonder if the new-fangled
technology makes the Wilmot Proviso come to life. Probably not. I have a
feeling it would be boring even if it were presented in 3-D IMAX by Jessica Alba
swimming naked in a shark tank.
You're probably wondering why, if the film has a non-descript plot and a
familiar mind-set, I enjoyed it.
A few reasons:
First, the character of the Hit Dude, known only as Agent 47, is quite interesting.
He may have a license to kill, but in terms of sexual
inclinations, he's about as far from James Bond as a man can be. We think he
is probably a virgin. He has his chances, but he always finds a way to get out
of sex, even if it involves knocking the gal out. This guy really has some
issues. The back story is that he was an orphan who was raised from earliest
infancy to be Agent 47, and nothing more. The lust for women would be a
vulnerability, and he's been trained to remain invulnerable. This is the first
time I can remember a hero designed for video game nerds who's just as
unlikely to get laid as they are!
Second, Timothy Olyphant and Olga Kurylenko bring some life and humanity to
their characters. Olyphant delivers lines like nobody else, and has the
"amoral and off-kilter" schtick absolutely down to a science, to the point
where he can use his odd eye movements and offbeat line readings to play an
atypical hero (as he does in Deadwood), a villain (as he does in Live Free or
Die Hard), or an anti-hero (as he does here). Ms. Kurylenko, meanwhile, is
utterly charming and vulnerable. This is the first video game adaptation I can
recall where I actually dug the main characters.
Finally, the film has some guilty pleasures that I do enjoy. The Hitster travels around glamorous foreign locales, ala James
Bond, and the exterior daylight shots are splendid. The nighttime exteriors
basically consist of cityscapes lit with colored lights in the manner of
European tourist attractions, or maybe I should say in the manner of Dick
Tracy, because the film has a certain comic strip ambience to it. Overall, the
visuals in this film are surprisingly dramatic and effective. Even
better than that, Olga Kurylenko has not one but three nude scenes. Good ones, too. That
kind of guilty pleasure.
The overwhelming majority of critics
who dismissed this film have some fair points, basically the same negatives I
listed above. There were parts of the film that made me wince, but on balance I
found it a reasonably appealing experience, despite the fact that I was
predisposed to hate it.