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Big, goofy summer escape: Action-packed ‘The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard’ features violent slapstick humor

From left, Samuel L. Jackson, Antonio Banderas, Salma Hayek and Ryan Reynolds in a scene from “The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard.” (David Appleby/Lionsgate )

Full disclosure: I laughed out loud three or maybe even four times at the violent slapstick humor in “The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard,” the exceedingly loud sequel to the equally bombastic and rather dreadful medium-sized action/comedy hit from 2017. The star power trio of Samuel L. Jackson, Salma Hayek and Ryan Reynolds have a few funny exchanges, and there are a couple of physical shtick routines so over the top it’s as if they dusted off the Monty Python playbook for a modern-day action film – but there are far more misfires than direct comedic/dramatic hits in this blood-drenched, explosion-riddled, live-action cartoon of a film.

Jackson returns as Darius Kincaid, a notorious hit man with hundreds of kills, and Reynolds is Michael Bryce, a former elite bodyguard trying to get in touch with his sensitive side. Even though Bryce saved Kincaid’s life the first time around, Kincaid can’t stand to be in the same country, let alone the same room, with Bryce – but when Kincaid is kidnapped and is about to be executed by some Really Bad Guys, Kincaid’s wife, Sonia (Hayek), finds Bryce and says he’s the only one who can help her rescue her beloved man.

One big problem: Bryce has just “graduated” from therapy and is on sabbatical from using guns or initiating any kind of violence. That’s one of the running gags in “The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard,” as Bryce keeps leaving soul-baring voicemails for his future self on his phone and steadfastly refusing to take up arms, even when the bullets are flying all around and lives are at stake. Reynolds is an established master of self-deprecating, quick-witted humor, and he takes it to the next level here as Bryce is a bundle of open vulnerability, much to the disgust of the rough-and-tumble Kincaid, who drops F-bombs this way and that and tells Bryce to man up and get on board with the mission.

Oh right, there’s a mission.

Seems there’s political chaos and turmoil in Europe, with recent rulings so incensing the Greek mob kingpin/megalomaniac Aristotle Papadopolous (Antonio Banderas) that Aristotle has masterminded an exceedingly complex scheme that will blow up the grid and in effect destroy the entire European continent, because that’s what mob kingpin/megalomaniacs do in action movies such as this one.

Frank Grillo is one of my favorite on-screen tough guys, but he looks as if he wandered in from a very different movie as Bobby O’Neill, an Interpol agent who hates being stationed in Europe and wants only to go home to Boston. Against Bobby’s better judgment – he constantly refers to Bryce and the Kincaids as “idiots” – he enlists their help in taking down Aristotle. They’ll go undercover and make a buy of the obligatory Magic Computer Thingee Device That Holds the Key to Everything, and in exchange Bobby won’t put them away for the various and sundry crimes they’ve committed. Something like that.

Director Patrick Hughes (whose credits include “The Expendables 3” and the original “The Hitman’s Bodyguard”) is extremely fond of elaborate and violent shootouts and chase sequences, played as much for comedic effect as action thrills. There are callbacks to gags from the original movie involving nuns, Bryce at one point being oblivious to the chaos happening behind him and the insufferable pop song “The Sign” by Ace of Base – but the problem is, those jokes weren’t all that funny in the first place. Morgan Freeman has a strange, extended cameo as a legend in a certain discipline, which leads to some weird albeit darkly funny revelations about Bryce’s childhood.

Meanwhile, Sonia, who is supposedly a world-class con artist capable of pulling off elaborate and sophisticated schemes but is bat-bleep crazy to the point where her temper fits often endanger the lives of everyone around her, yearns to become a mother, even though she will most certainly be one of the absolute worst mothers in the history of moms. (Another ongoing bit has Bryce cringing like a teenage stepson as the Kincaids engage in vigorous sexual antics while he’s literally 6 feet away. Ha. Ha.) Sonia takes a motherly interest in Bryce, who clearly has mommy issues, which leads to some oddball moments, e.g., one minute Sonia is cradling Bryce like a baby, the next she’s feeding him lithium and telling him it’s a painkiller. With Croatia doubling as Italy, “The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard” has some admittedly gorgeous locales, and the stars do their best to sell the material as a bloody good time – but a big, dumb, goofy summer escapist movie shouldn’t be this exhausting and tedious.

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