It’s the dog days of summer at local movie theaters—the time of year when all good blockbusters have been released, kids are going back to school and people generally stop caring about theatrically released movies until October. Hollywood dumps all kinds of hard-to-market fare in the hopes of generating interest. Folks can go to the movies on a weekday right now, and the only other person they might see is the employee selling tickets and snacks. This week I watched one movie at a theater and another at home—once again dipping into the wide offering of original content now available through various streaming services.
First up: “The Hitman’s Bodyguard,” a harmless and mildly entertaining piece of action-comedy that felt like a callback to the 1980s buddy-action pictures. Ryan Reynolds is Michael Bryce, a fancy bodyguard who takes pride in knowing all the angles and obsessively plans for his client’s protection. After a high-priced client is executed on his watch, his life spirals into a prison of mediocrity. He loses his triple-A security status and has to resort to protecting low-level riff raff and ne’er-do-wells. To make matters worse, he’s called by an ex-girlfriend to help protect a high-value Interpol target scheduled to take the stand against a despotic dictator (Gary Oldman).
Enter Darius Kincaid (Samuel Motherfucking Jackson), the world’s most-renowned hit man with hundreds of executions to his name. He’s a lone wolf. El solo lobo. What happens when a straight-laced, by-the-book bodyguard has to deal with a hit man who refuses to play by the rules? Well, you end up with a marginally entertaining action movie with two charismatic leads and a plot that will only surprise people who have never seen an action movie in their life. Actually, even those people might be able to see every twist and turn coming.
“The Hitman’s Bodyguard” was entertaining enough: well-filmed, some nice action set pieces, and two leads with enough chemistry to carry the movie across the finish line. It’s a movie people walk away from feeling like they got their money’s worth but would never need to see again. There isn’t a moment that feels noteworthy or a line with catchphrase potential. It’s just two hours of marginal fun that never quite hits a high note.
Speaking of notes, “Death Note” ends up being almost the exact same kind of confection as “The Hitman’s Bodyguard”: occasionally fun and marginally entertaining. I might be more forgiving of original movies I see on streaming content for a few reasons. Number one: I’m not really paying anything extra for it. My flat monthly Netflix subscription already gives me access to so much content, watching an original movie feels like icing on the cake. I’m also spared the time it takes to put on pants, drive to the theater, and deal with the crazies who constantly sit right behind me and talk on their cellphones when their vastly eroded attention spans cause them to get bored.
“Death Note” has a very clever premise: A high-schooler is visited by a demon (the excellent Willem Dafoe) and given a special book that allows him to kill anyone he wants, simply by writing down their name and choosing how they die. After dispatching with the school bully and a crazed criminal, he decides to start using the book to take vengeance upon the criminal scum of the world. He even begins to make each killing appear to be inspired by the same otherworldly entity, making many believe it’s a vengeful God named “Kira.”
The movie is based on popular anime, which becomes very apparent in a few ways, mainly by the character names. Our main character is a bleach-blonde high-school student named … wait for it … Light (Nat Wolff). Light’s nemesis in the movie, other than the tricky murder-happy demon Ryuk (Dafoe), is a special international investigator, “L” (Lakeith Stanfield). “L” is part of a special group of detectives who have been trained since childhood in an orphanage for gifted children. Once these strange, seemingly impossible murders continue to occur and marked regularity, L begins to crack the case. It’s the kind of crazy storytelling so natural in Japanese Manga and Anime. Demons, high-school students, crazy death books, special investigators who wear hoodies, cover their face and do parkour.
“Death Note” is weird, and it never truly fulfills the promise of its twisted potential. But there’s a lot of fun, goofy B-movie moments that left me more entertained than not-entertained. It’s like a trippy “Final Destination” with a lot of gory executions. The only time the movie feels giddily perfect is when Willem Dafoe’s super-creepy demon is lurking in the background tormenting our hero.
While neither film is exceptional, both are entertaining enough to justify their existence.
The Hitman’s Bodyguard
Directed by Patrick Hughes
Starring Ryan Reynolds, Samuel L. Jackson, Gary Oldman