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A Hitman and His Bodyguard Get Into Trouble (No Need to Overcomplicate Things)

Reviews of "The Hitman's Bodyguard" and "Wind River," plus local movie news and notes.

photo © 2017 Lionsgate.

Sometimes it pays to take the easy route.

There’s no great thought behind “The Hitman’s Bodyguard,” the new action-comedy starring Samuel L. Jackson and Ryan Reynolds. This is not a movie with anything to say; it has no message, no raison d'être.

This movie exists so that Samuel L. Jackson may yell and swear, so that Ryan Reynolds may retort with deadpan quips, so that vehicles may fly off of things and improbably continue operating, so that bad guys may be punched and worse.

So it’s good. Because it is simple, and unambitious, and lighthearted.

Darius Kincaid (Jackson), an international assassin facing life imprisonment at best, is offered a deal: His wife (Salma Hayek), currently in jail as an accomplice to his crimes, will be set free if he provides evidence against a despot (Gary Oldman) on trial for war crimes. Kincaid takes the deal, but Interpol has to deliver him from London to The Hague to make it work ... which is tricky, since Interpol has a bit of a mole infestation.

Amelia Roussel (Élodie Yung), the quite-junior Interpol officer assigned to the task, gets Kincaid away from the dirty cops and delivers him to Michael Bryce (Reynolds), an old flame who just happens to be a disgraced former elite bodyguard. Kincaid and Bryce set out for Holland, at each other's throats when not evading gunfire.

To be clear, this is not a fine piece of modern cinema; it is very rough around the edges, with notably second-rate cinematography and sound, somewhat hapless direction (this is director Patrick Hughes’ first film since “The Expendables 3,”) and some repetitive bits.

Fortunately, the chemistry between the leads is great; Jackson returns to form here, and Reynolds remains at the height of his powers between “Deadpool” outings. Hayek is also quite funny, and Oldman is very comfortable as a glowering, spit-talking villain. And — the big surprise — unlike most of its action-comedy brethren, the set pieces are actually well above average; a chase scene through the streets of Amsterdam is particularly memorable.

Will I be keeping it in mind when evaluating award contenders in a couple of months? Uhh, no. But you could do far worse than this. (Hollywood often does, after all.)

*    *    *

Actor turned writer turned writer-director Taylor Sheridan is recognizable for recurring roles on “Sons of Anarchy” and “Veronica Mars.” Quietly, though, he has emerged as a screenwriter trafficking in brutal, unflinching honesty; he penned Denis Villeneuve’s excellent drug-war thriller “Sicario” and David Mackenzie’s heartbreaking western “Hell or High Water.” Now, directing his own screenplay in “Wind River,” he is emerging as the best dramatist of the desperate, forgotten elements of contemporary America.

When a young Native American woman is found murdered on a remote part of the Wind River Indian Reservation, a rookie FBI agent (Elizabeth Olsen) is called in by sheer proximity; she’s attending a wedding nearby. (And, of course, most agents with seniority don’t want to be bothered.) She finds a world-weary police chief (Graham Greene), a furious and uncooperative father (Gil Birmingham) and a haunted professional hunter (Jeremy Renner), the moods and cynicism of whom she must navigate to solve the case.

“Wind River” is a film about the hopelessness and marginalization of the first Americans — and the tensions which arise when those hungry for oil and work once again invade their land. It’s bleak by design, of course, but it borders on essential viewing for a more complete picture of the confusing, divided country we find ourselves in.

*    *    *

The Montage: The Sen. John Heinz History Center hosts a premiere screening of “Missing McKeesport,” a documentary looking back at the once-thriving Jewish community in the riverfront town, this Sunday in the museum’s Mueller Center. The screening is included with museum admission, but advance registration is recommended ... Release dates keep moving around here, so a few unexpected changes for this week: Steven Soderbergh’s “Logan Lucky” is opening this Friday (I haven’t seen it yet), as is the buzzing dance-team documentary “Step.” “Lady Macbeth,” which I thought was opening two weeks ago (and liked very much), actually opens today ... As mentioned in After Dark earlier this month, AMC Waterfront 22 will on Wednesday present the newly restored, 3-D version of “Terminator 2: Judgment Day.” I’m not usually one for 3-D conversions of old flicks, but this one purports to be the most careful and technically painstaking yet. It’ll follow a screening of the first “Terminator.” Tickets here.


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