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A perfect pairing of comedy and action

Photo: Ryan Reynolds (left) and Samuel L. Jackson (right) in “The Hitmans Bodyguard”

by T.T. Stern-Enzi

When we first lay eyes on triple-A professional bodyguard Michael Bryce (Ryan Reynolds), he’s on top of the world; one that has gone according to his carefully scripted plan. He’s got a loving and beautiful partner in Amelia (Elodie Yung), a well-appointed lifestyle, and a sixth sense for making sure that his high-level clients get expert protection and service. Of course, all of that changes as soon as one of them takes a bullet on a private runway right before Bryce’s unblinking eyes. Bryce, in a flash, becomes persona non-grata, a nobody working on the margins, for even more marginalized clients – drugged up petty criminal types with bullseyes on their backs. But, at his core, he’s still one of the best.

As “The Hitman’s Bodyguard,” he meets his match when he crosses paths with Darius Kincaid (Samuel L. Jackson), a cocksure hired killer pressed to offer testimony in an international trial against a ruthless former dictator (Gary Oldman, doing “Gary Oldman” as only Gary Oldman can). Interpol caught Kincaid by convincing him that his wife (Salma Hayek) was in danger – she’s merely been imprisoned in a cushy European facility that she runs like a boss – and now he’s willing to trade his testimony for her freedom. Romantic parallels draw Bryce into Kincaid’s orbit after Amelia, the Interpol agent in charge of protecting Kincaid, needs backup and she reaches out to her ex.

With an appearance in court less than two days away, Bryce and Kincaid head off for what should be a typically mindless adventure from director Patrick Hughes (“The Expendables 3”) and writer Tom O’Connor (“Fire With Fire”) that creams “48 Hours” cranked up on “Transporter” juice (and I mean original Jason Statham, not the television series or the follow-up movie without Statham).

There’s a subtle shift in the “48 Hours” dynamic, with Kincaid looking like a far more traditional, in some ways, mentor for the much-younger Bryce as their banter transitions from spiked sparring to grudging acceptance of one another. The jokes fly fast and furious, especially when you take into account that you’ve got Jackson who can make the word “mother*****” sing and dance like the lovechild of Michael Jackson and Mikhail Baryshnikov, while Reynolds does snide and smart behind the Deadpool mask and makes us believe we’re looking at his loveable face the whole time.

The combination of Jackson and Reynolds speaks to an idea of onscreen chemistry taken several steps beyond what we’re used to seeing in such pairings. Reynolds has a history working opposite an eclectic cast of big names, like Helen Mirren in “Woman in Gold,” Jeff Bridges in “RIPD,” and Denzel Washington in “Safe House.” Of course, that select list doesn’t factor in romantic liaisons like his team-up with Sandra Bullock in “The Proposal.”

Many of these partnerships have missed the mark, in broad box office terms, which seems surprising because Reynolds is such an engaging presence, capable of holding his own against a variety of performers. He’s comfortable with sexual material, action, and quick verbal jousting, but none of these duos have generated the kind of combustible energy we see in “Bodyguard.”

Simply put, that’s because what Hughes and O’Connor have created is a pop cultural event. Jackson’s Kincaid is a glorious return to the brashness of Jules from Quentin Tarantino’s “Pulp Fiction” and in Bryce, Reynolds gets to run and gun with someone suited to his style and delivery. The bromantic vibe between these two truly recalls the verbal and physical sparring we enjoyed between Eddie Murphy and Nick Nolte, where the firefight is even, with both barrels blazing from each side.

The narrative even allows for philosophical and moral debate, as Kincaid challenges Bryce to consider whether it is worse to kill evil men for money or to protect them for personal gain. The question isn’t a throwaway bit either. The two men actually spend a few precious moments hashing out their differences, which again shows the intelligence and wit Jackson and Reynolds bring to the mix.

“The Hitman’s Bodyguard” proves that summer fun comes best with two great tastes that taste great together.

The Hitman’s Bodyguard [R] B+