Hitman (2007) / Action-Thriller

MPAA Rated: R for pervasive violence, nudity, sensuality and language
Running time: 107 min.

Cast: Timothy Olyphant, Dougray Scott, Olga Kurylenko, Robert Knepper, Ulrich Thomsen, Henry Ian Cusick, Michael Offei
Director: Xavier Gens
Screenplay: Skip Woods
Review published November 26, 2007

The phrase "based on a video game" carries some pretty telling connotations, generally meaning an all style and little substance experience that regurgitates the look and feel of the game series upon which it is based without carrying any distinction of its own in the world of cinema.  Hitman is yet another example of what's wrong with merely adapting video games, as outside of the bald-headed look of the main character and some of the style, this is a very routine actioner that will only thrill the usual gun porn fanatics and no one else.  The screenplay is by Skip Woods, who previously wrote another no-brain action thriller with 2001's SwordfishWhile that was a dumb film to be sure, it at least wasn't as boring as this joylessly formulaic slog though action clichés and redundant gunfights.

Timothy Olyphant (Live Free or Die Hard, Catch and Release) gets the starring nod as Agent 47, a trained assassin who was educated in the ways of killing at an early age by a secret group of international hitmen known simply as The Organization.  His latest assignment sees him committing a public hit on the up-and-coming political leader in Russia, and while the mission is a success, he is as shocked as anyone to learn that the man whose head he put a sniper's bullet through is alive and kicking the next day.  Meanwhile, hot on his tail is a tenacious Interpol agent named Mike Whittier (Scott, Perfect Creature), who is constantly being eluded by 47 at every turn, sometimes thanks to the Russian FSB getting in the way. 

It should come as little surprise to learn that Vin Diesel originally would be set to star, in addition to produce this action vehicle that seems tailor made for him.  It comes across as a xXx retread more than it does a faithful adaptation of the movie's video game namesake, complete with Eastern European locales, an exotic model as the semi-romantic interest, grumpy military figures, and pyrotechnics to spare. 

One of the more curious aspects of the film is that Xavier Gens (Frontier(s)) takes it all so seriously, as it rarely goes for laughs, and when it does, it is so subtle as to be nearly undetectable.  Another strange turn of events is to try to make Agent 47 as some sort of romantic hero, like some sort of gallant knight who fights for his woman, despite threatening her life on several occasions.  It doesn't come off as touching, and in fact, the entirety of the flirtation scenes between Agent 47 and his reluctant tagalong, a hooker named Nika Boronina (Kurylenko, Paris I Love You) , is just the sort of thing you'd find stuffed into a typical Luc Besson (The Fifth Element, The Professional) movie.  Ah yes, I see that Besson serves as the producer of the film, and that industry reports claim he had re-shoots done, sans Gens involvement.   No wonder it comes across as stale French action leftovers.

Hitman pales in comparison to the more recent Bourne films, of which it is quite reminiscent of in terms of storyline, with its forced romance, duplicitous secret organizations, and a constant uncertainty in the antihero as to whether he's doing a good thing or if he is merely a tool for someone else's misdeeds.  The difference here is that we never get to know Agent 47 in the slightest, not once feeling his anguish, uncertainty, or interest in helping or hurting anyone's cause, despite knowing the fact that he is showing these emotions throughout.  Since we are never quite sure what he's up to, or why he is up to it, we care little about most anything he does or what others do to him.  The only thing left for us to admire is the heavily stylized action, which is oddly off screen for long durations as the monotonous events are set up in an effort to engage us with phony squabbles between international law enforcement agencies.

Without anything suspenseful, or even of general interest, Hitman is a waste of time for pretty much anyone not an avowed fan of phallic weapons and orgasmic money shot head kills.  And if you are one of those people who needs constant titillation of violent displays, why not play the video game it is based on instead, in which you actually get to be involved in the killing, snipping out the tediously drawn-out plotting and useless romance.  The kill count comes early and often, but no one on the screen is dispatched as severely as our interest, patience and overall feeling of entertainment. 

Qwipster's rating:

©2007 Vince Leo