A Review by Noah Antwiler
Some of you might remember my optimism regarding the Hitman movie before its release. I said that as long as the film stayed true to its source material it would be a success, regardless of its actual quality. Most videogame-based movie adaptations fail at this. I know DOOM never really had much of a chance (not actually having a plot), and the Resident Evil movies were certainly going to be bad because their stories were needlessly labyrinthine and complex, yet simultaneously, roaringly stupid. Then there are flicks like Bloodrayne, which would have been better served being a straight-up porn. Alone in the Dark might have had a chance if it were, you know, actually based on the game and not directed by the Sultan of Shit, Uwe Boll.
Hitman, though, is something of a throwback to the days when games like DOOM and Double Dragon didn't really have stories. There's not much to understanding Hitman. The game is about an anonymous bald man with a barcode on the back of his head who kills people for money. The secret behind his identity crops up at the climax of the first game, but once it's resolved it never becomes much of an issue after that. The games are basically just a series of disconnected missions where Agent 47 travels to exotic locations and assassinates people. Its near-total lack of a narrative is something of a surprise in this day and age, where most games have some semblance of a story. Even Pac-Man has a story arc nowadays. The Hitman just bops around the nation trying to kill people as quickly and as innocuously as possible to get a high score. The game, much like Agent 47 himself, is a blank slate. I'm sure some gamers out there would love to write me and tell me just how deep and involving the Hitman mythos really is, but I played two of those games to completion and all I did was whack people and undress them in toilet stalls, getting caught for really bullshit reasons and dealing with lame A.I..
It's remarkable that the game series is as successful as it is, considering this weakness. You certainly couldn't release a movie like this, where a bald guy just systematically murders people, gets paid, talks to nobody, and goes home. Being true to the game is the last thing you'd want the Hitman movie to be. The good news (if there is any) is that the movie has a story. The bad news (and there's a mountain of it) begins with the fact that it was written by the same guy who brought us the John Travolta classic Swordfish, in which a thief working for a black-ops division of the United States government steals tons of money to finance wetwork overseas by leading it into a bus, attaching the bus to a helicopter, and flying the bus away.
The titular Hitman is played by a grievously-miscast Timothy Olyphant, who you may remember as the chickenshit villain in Live Free or Die Hard, but here just looks too pouty and preppy to be a stone-cold killer. He does have a very nicely-rounded skull, though. My head wouldn't look nearly as shapely if I were bald. We never find out anything about the Hitman other than his code number since the Agents of his clan don't have names, but that's okay because his identity and the secret group to which he belongs don't factor into the story at all. This is very puzzling, since the previews make a point of describing this brotherhood of assassins in great detail, highlighting their training from birth and the fact that they have some kind of divine mandate, heady with religious undertones. But other than a brief sequence showing 47's training in a mysterious secret lab to the melodic strains of Ave Maria, we are never again exposed to the world 47 was raised in, and the religious symbolism is all but forgotten. It's very odd, considering how heavy-handed the previews and the movie are in showing us Catholic icons and priests in the background of the assassins' training. You'd think that the agents have some nobler purpose, destroying the wicked or something. They don't. They don't even display any loyalty to each other, which is even more puzzling when 47 is set up by his own people following his assassination of the Russian prime minister.
From then on, the movie becomes a club-footed ripoff of the Bourne movies, complete with an identical orchestral score. His handler with the organization, code-named Diana, breaks character briefly to warn 47 that people are coming to kill him. The movie spends quite a bit of time establishing 47's rapport with her, and this sudden warning seems a daring breach of protocol, but we never hear from Diana again. It's sloppy writing, especially since Diana represents a potential insider that he can trust against the organization. 47 is also surprised to learn that the target he shot is somehow still alive, so he decides (for some reason) to complete his contract anyway despite the fact that the organization he works for is actively sending dozens of other bald barcoded hitmen to kill him. In reality, the person who ordered the hit was the body double of the real prime minister, who planned to assume his boss' place once the real PM was killed by 47. He then turned around and contacted the same agency to kill 47 and the PM's personal hooker: the only people who could identify him. It's amazing that 47's organization would so easily throw one of its own to the wolves, but also idiotic to believe that 47, a representative of a worldwide league of assassins from birth, would be so unprofessional as to betray the secrets of his employers. Don't you think the agency itself would ensure 47's discretion?
Anyway, 47 spends the rest of the movie on the run from bald people, the Russian FSB, and a pair of agents from Interpol who are so inept that they command all the dignity of the Keystone cops. The lead agent (Dougray Scott) has been chasing 47 for three years but still has no idea what the man looks like, even though 47 is one of the most easily-identifiable hitmen you can imagine, being a tall bald white guy with a barcode on the back of his head, usually wearing a red tie. Dougray believes that 47 is responsible for over a hundred deaths, but then, the movie forgets that 47 is just one of dozens of other hitmen racking up victims all over the globe, and he has no way of knowing who he's killed. Dougray spends most of the film not-smoking and bickering with Russians and Nigerians over whose jurisdiction the investigation is-- even though Interpol has no jurisdiction anywhere, and legally has no right to barge into other sovereign nations making arrests.
The script itself is ludicrous and self-contradictory, full of Ed Wood-style howlers like this:
"When I was a little girl, my father raised grapes." (It takes a village, after all.)
"Don't be dramatic! I bought you breakfast."
"The only man who can possibly expose us is the man not in this room!!" (I have no idea what this even means.)
"He belongs to a group known as the Organization: a society so secret nobody even knows it exists." (Then how do they know it's called the Organization?)
I can barely begin to scratch the surface on how ridiculous the story gets. I was almost rolling in the aisles trying to keep the plot threads together in my mind. Why does the super-secret Organization give its assassins suitcases full of bombs and equipment, each piece meticulously emblazoned with its logo? These guys put their logo on more things than Nike does. How do they expect to remain secret when they make every effort to mark equipment with a unique, unmistakable symbol? What the hell function does the barcode on the agents' head serve, other than a laughably simple way for police agencies to identify them? Not only that, we see some kids playing the Hitman videogame, so clearly this organization is the worst-kept secret in international law enforcement. Why do the Organization's booby traps look like cut-rate disco balls from the back of Spencer's Gifts, and why do they do more damage to the interior of the room instead of people trying to enter from the outside? You'd think the bomb was custom made to incinerate Agent 47 instead of someone trying to break in.
The funniest moment is when 47 is cornered in an abandoned subway car by three other hitmen. It triggers a Mexican standoff, where the other hitmen surround him with twin pistols drawn, but hilariously, the hitmen are pointing their guns at each other, when in reality the only person they want to kill is 47. There is no standoff here. Each of the three men were sent explicitly to kill 47, so why are they pointing guns at one another? How does 47 get out of this? He looks at them and asks "How about we die with dignity?" The hitmen nod at each other, drop their guns, and everyone starts brandishing twin wakizashis. Where in the hell did 47 get swords from? Why wouldn't they just shoot him? Why would a hitman carry samurai swords??? I suppose it's because 47, like most characters in the film, has a habit of pulling random weapons out of his ass. I have no idea where he got the swords from, and in the next scene he's taking aim at someone through the scope of a sniper rifle he had no way of getting since he abandoned all his gear in the hotel room.
Another very strange development that never appears to lead anywhere is his relationship with the Russian prostitute he was hired to kill. He becomes protective of her, which is very out-of-character for him especially since he spends most of the movie treating her like shit. He drives across Russia with her stuffed in the trunk of his Audi with a dead body, threatens several times to torture and murder her, and for some reason (probably a really freakish case of Stolkholm Syndrome) she falls for 47 hard. She tries to seduce him several times with such subtle techniques as walking around topless and dry-humping him. A lot of people had problems with the trailers watching 47 get sexed up, but 47 is strangely asexual and responds by jamming a syringe into her neck to knock her out. In fact, he seems more than a little grossed-out by the whole prospect of fucking a gorgeous Russian chick. I was somewhat interested to find out of this related in any way to his assassin training or some form of religious schooling against the evils of women, but naturally, nothing comes of it. Literally. Little joke there. I still don't understand why she's so irrationally attracted to the dangerous sociopath who spent the better part of an hour the night before dry-clicking a pistol at the back of her head. Maybe she's just a huge whore, or maybe it's just bad direction, but it was hilarious to see how cheery and horny she was mere moments after 47 drags her out of a restaurant by her hair or threatens to throw her back in the trunk of his car. But if it matters to you, yes, there are two very gratuitous scenes where she walks around naked. Leave it to the Swordfish guy to do one thing right: he writes shit movies but he delivers the boobs!
You might not care about all this if the action was decent. Alas, Hitman is one of the most technically-inept movies I've ever seen. It never takes the noble art of assassination seriously for a moment. Even in the game it was highly desirable to kill your targets as discreetly as possible, preferably making the mark's death look like an accident. Not here. The hitmen dress like complete buffoons, carry super-gadgets with their logo all over them, and make all of their assassinations as public as possible, preferably using samurai swords or twin pistols, usually aimed in opposite directions for maximum effectiveness. The footage is grainy and badly-lit, the cinematography shaky and the framing amateurish. The soundtrack is stolen from Jason Bourne. The ADR is so badly-done that there's rarely a scene where it's not blatantly obvious that the characters lips don't match the dialogue that's being spoken. Even the scenes that bookend the movie where 47 explains himself to Dougray Scott make no sense and have no real reason to exist.
Oh, and by the way, I'd just like to take a moment to thank the director for providing helpful subtitles at the beginning of every scene to tell us where we are. I would never have guessed we were in England if you'd just put the word "LONDON" on the screen. I needed to see "LONDON, ENGLAND" be The Protectorin terms of poor scripting, watchable only by masochists who get a chuckle out of films that parody themselves. Hitman wants to be a John Woo-style pistol opera so badly it hurts, but even those movies, as loud and bombastically stupid as they are, still made sense and delivered the goods in the action department. Hitman's got no identity of its own, and not enough style or skill to make up for it. It's the second-worst movie of the year and you'd do well to run screaming from it.