November 23, 2007

Movie Review: Hitman

Looking for some mindless action? Hitman may just fill that hole until something better comes along. It is based on the popular video game franchise, although it does not attempt to recreate any specific plot thread from any one game. The plot is an original one that combines elements taken from the series and molds them into a new adventure. In my mind this was a good idea. If you try to copy straight from the game, you will forever be linked to that specific volume and the details of the movie better match up with the game lest you face the wrath of the fanboys. I have not played any of the games, so I cannot say with any degree of certainty how well it fits in with canon. What I can say is that there is so little real substance that it may not matter.

The opening credits sequence takes us through Agent 47's (Timothy Olyphant) formative years through footage taken from defunct television series Dark Angel (seriously). We are told of The Organization and how they handpicked their soldiers from the orphaned youth of the world. They would then be trained in all forms of killing, forget how to be a human as that would just get in the way, all the masterminds wanted were pure, emotionless killing machines. However, for as much training and programming they put their chosen through, there is no way to predict, completely, how anyone will react in a given situation. No matter how far back their emotions are repressed.

We catch up with Agent 47 in Russia. He is on an assignment - kill President Belicoff (Ulrich Thomsen). Why? I am not entirely sure. There was something said about a group not liking his conservative views and a desire for change. Anyway, 47 is really good at his job, and he succeeds in his task. For all of his planning and all of the precautions he takes, everything heads south when Belicoff makes a public appearance and is very much alive. The how's and why's of his seeming resurrection will be left for you to discover, what is left are the loose ends. It quickly becomes apparent that 47 is being set-up and he will need to act fast to find out who is behind it and why.

With the double-cross in full effect, 47 finds himself being pursued by Russian Secret Police, led by Yuri Marklov (Prison Break's Robert "T-Bag" Knepper), and Interpol, led by Mike Whittier (Dougray Scott). He also meets Nika, a prostitute with ties to the president and the only other person who can unlock the secret behind Belicoff's return. Besides her plot point, she also is an unknown factor to 47. He seems to be intrigued by her, yet attempts to keep up his guard. It is a moderately interesting relationship, although it leaves much left to the imagination.

The plot is pretty straightforward with little in the way of twists or surprises. What makes this worthy of watching at all is the action, and to some extent, the performances. There are plenty of stylish fights using fists, guns, and swords. There isn't anything we haven't seen before, but that doesn't take away from the "cool" factor. Director Xavier Gens has a good eye for action and knows how to paint the screen with appropriate slow motion; there is promise for his future projects.

I was one of those who thought that Jason Statham should have been cast as the lead, and I still believe he would have been a strong choice. Timothy Olyphant (who I confuse with Josh Duhamel) won the role and brings a depth to the role that makes the character more interesting than expected, but still is not explored as fully as it could have been. Still, Olyphant anchors the film with an oddly charismatic presence that far outweighs his villainous role in Live Free or Die Hard. The rest of the performances are all solid, considering what they have to work with.

Where Hitman fails is in the script. There is no depth to the story. The screenplay fails to go anywhere beyond the surface. What little depth there is is left to the actors to try and drag out from in between the words on the page. What is the deal with those behind the Organization? Could this be the same group responsible for Jason Bourne? I smell crossover potential! What is the story surrounding Belicoff? There are certainly more political aspects to be explored to make this thread interesting. For that matter, why should I cheer for 47? There is little attempt to make him anything more than a killer for money on a job that went sour. Should I identify with him because he walks around real tough, can kill people in the blink of an eye, and pulls off the black and white suit look? Perhaps it should be for his bald head and trendy barcode tattoo? When you stop and think about it, Dougray Scott is the hero of the movie.

What makes the exercise worse is the epic promise of the trailers. As I left the theater my mind momentarily wandered back to the trailers. The trailers both point towards an epic tale of good against evil with 47 at the center. We get lines like: "Engineered from Darkness," "Protected by Divinity," "Bred from the world's deadliest criminals," "Raised by an exiled Brotherhood of the Church" and "Most believe his very existence is a sin." I did not get any of that from this movie.

It bothers me that there is very little growth and we are cheated by the trailers promising something that isn't there. Sure, trailers have been known to be misleading, but this takes the cake. There is a lot of potential here, but it is left unexplored. Some elements can be extracted from what you see, but there is nothing presented to truly support any findings. The end result is a mixture of Dark Angel, The Transporter, and James Bond that came out of the oven half-baked. Perhaps of a sequel is made we will get a little more depth, but I am not holding my breath.

Not Recommended.


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