It's all relentless in that never-stop never-stopping way, where the first big battle could have been the climax of a movie 15 years ago. At times, the continual cut-cut/shoot-shoot — verbs that apply to both the filmmaking and the onscreen killing — shakes entirely free from the concerns of storytelling. We're forever caught in sequences rather than a narrative, and when each extended set piece finally ends, some character gets tasked with reminding us that, oh yes, there’s a plot going on that we’re meant to recall and care about. Imagine if the old Gene Kelly/Stanley Donen musicals tossed out all those shortish story-tied song numbers and instead did those grand finale splendorous ballets every eight minutes. And also that those ballets each left behind dozen of corpses that nobody ever even blinks at, and that often one shot cuts to another so quickly that you catch only the sense of motion rather than the specifics of it. (The one-on-one kitchen/hardware-store fights featuring Reynolds are composed of clearer, longer takes, and occasionally the vehicular mayhem offers images of startling clarity: a motorcycle chasing SUVs chasing a boat, all in the same shot.)
Any honest review of this film will flirt with tautology: If you like this sort of thing, it's the sort of thing you'll like. If you've ever left an action film wondering "How many killings can a mind regard in two hours before something human within it collapses?" well, you may still find some amusement here when you're not feeling numbed. It helps immeasurably that it’s Jackson and Reynolds doing the shooting/driving/running/buddy-comedy bickering. The plot concerns Jackson’s character, the hitman of the title, being called upon to testify at The Hague in the trial of a war criminal (Gary Oldman). Due to the logic of screenplays, he has to get there from London in something like 27 hours or the war criminal walks free. (The International Criminal Court doesn’t know about Skype?)
Of course, paramilitary squads have assembled to prevent this testimony, and Reynolds’ character — a primly fastidious high-end bodyguard — gets roped into making sure the hitman makes his appointment. The two men detest each other, of course, and in the brief respites from the violence bicker, philosophize and — in my favorite moment — sing songs chosen to annoy each other. Somehow, as the bullets fly, Jackson’s character teaches Reynolds lessons about the nature of love; one of the film’s true pleasures is watching Jackson as a jolly murderer rather than a grim one. The script, by Tom O’Connor, never quite makes these killers into convincing people as Shane Black might have, and director Hughes’ excesses (fat jokes, fart jokes, cartoon sound effects) occasionally head-shots the goodwill that the stars generate. But both actors talk fast and funny, each scoring lots of on-brand laughs, with Reynolds in his polite, profane motormouth mode (disappointed at a car wash, he asks a worker “Are you washing the car with old assholes?”).
Crucially, the filmmakers honor the solemn responsibility that comes with casting Jackson in an R-rated goof of a film: the crafting of memorably daft badassery for him to thunder. Here are lines I’m thankful I’ve lived long enough to hear him say: “It’s mighty motherfucking white of you.” “Don’t even think about answering that fucking phone!” “I am harm’s way.” “There’s a plethora of motherfuckers!”