By Carl Kozlowski *
These are brutal times for movie lovers, with no new major releases coming until Sept. 8, when the long-awaited adaptation of Stephen King’s “It” finally reaches the big screen. Strangely, the last two major movies of summer could have played in theaters decades ago, with “The Hitman’s Bodyguard” badly imitating the buddy-cop formula used by countless action comedies in the 1980s.
Thankfully, “Logan Lucky” adds fresh Coen Brothers-style twists to the kind of Southern-fried action comedies that Burt Reynolds starred in back in the 1970s. The result is a fun time, although its pacing veers oddly between drawn-out character moments and spirited and funny crime caper elements.
“Bodyguard” brings together Ryan Reynolds and Samuel L. Jackson, two actors who have loads of charisma but whose resumes overflow with movies they seem to have made because their paychecks cleared. That certainly seems to be the case here.
Reynolds plays Michael Bryce, who was a hotshot private-security bodyguard until one of his biggest clients was assassinated right before his eyes. Now disgraced and working only low-level assignments, he is roped in by an ex-girlfriend Interpol agent to transport professional assassin Darius Kincaid (Jackson) from England to the International Criminal Court in the Netherlands so he can testify in the genocide trial of a Belarusian dictator (Gary Oldman).
The two have a long history of hating each other, with Kincaid having attempted to kill Bryce on multiple occasions as they crossed paths around the world. As they race to make it to the courtroom in time for the judges’ deadline, they dodge seemingly dozens of the dictator’s minions in an endless stream of over-the-top action sequences, trading insults all the while.
“Bodyguard” is annoying nearly from start to finish, completely defying all sense of internal logic as their enemies manage to find them in every corner of Europe within five seconds of their arrival. Screenwriter Tom O’Connor also relies on flashbacks to explain nearly every aspect of the movie, patching plot holes on a constant basis that feels insulting to the viewer.
Director Patrick Hughes, who last gave the world the utterly mediocre “The Expendables 3” (which killed that action series), has the action veer far too much in its tone. There are some ridiculous yet fun chases including Kincaid wreaking havoc in a speedboat through the canals of Amsterdam, but they’re mixed with overly nasty moments such as having Bryce tortured repeatedly with electroshocks.
Jackson and Reynolds should be embarrassed, although Salma Hayek is even worse as Kincaid’s Venezuelan wife Sonia. In prison for serving as accomplice to one of Kincaid’s criminal adventures, she adds to the nearly incessant screaming of Jackson by constantly berating her captors in a performance that defines the word stereotype.
“Bodyguard” is packed start to finish with tons of foul language, particularly a constant barrage of variations on the “F word,” as one might imagine anytime Samuel L. Jackson stars in an R-rated action movie. It’s also filled with tons of action, with quite a few bloody gunshot victims and the aforementioned electroshock sequence rendering this a movie that’s not likely one for the squeamish. Its biggest offense, though, is the fact that it just plain stinks.
“Lucky” is a lot more fun, following the story of blue-collar West Virginia brothers who plan a heist at the Charlotte Motor Speedway after a string of bad luck befalls them both. Channing Tatum plays Jimmy Logan, who is unfairly laid off from a construction job at the speedway due to a past injury, while his brother Clyde (Adam Driver) is a bartender who lost an arm while serving in the Iraq war.
Though they are decent, hard-working guys overall, Jimmy and Clyde have a history of committing mischief and getting into bar brawls. Jimmy hatches a plan to get revenge on the speedway by robbing its vault in the middle of a race day and lures in both Clyde and a motley crew of lowlifes – including ace safecracker Joe Bang (Daniel Craig) and his idiot brothers – into his plot.
Since Joe is already incarcerated for another crime, Jimmy and Clyde also have to figure out how to get him out of prison fast enough to help with the robbery and get him back into his cell before the guards notice. That ingenious twist, combined with its well-defined characters and dialogue that cleverly walks the line between making the brothers simpleminded yet creative, makes “Lucky” stand out as one of the most original popcorn movies in a long while.
The key to making this mostly work is director Steven Soderbergh, who mastered the heist-comedy genre by helming the “Oceans 11” trilogy. He again draws colorful performances out of an eclectic cast, with Craig particularly fun while shedding his suavely British, James Bond image to play a redneck whose idea of a treat is hard-boiled eggs from the prison vending machine.
Perhaps the biggest surprise comes from the fact that Soderbergh and his cast make the brothers sympathetic, rather than merely treating them with condescension. Tatum and Driver portray Jimmy and Clyde with an underlying sense of dignity beneath the laughs, providing a sense of respect for Red Staters that is rarely seen from Hollywood.
That’s something to root for in these divided times, along with the fact that with occasional mild swearing and innuendoes and a fun, non-brutal approach to its heist, this is a movie with nothing that should really cause moral offense to anyone in its PG-13 age range and above.
* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.