Review: Hitman

Movies adapted from video games have always been a strange phenomenon. Taking something inherently cinematic and turning it into something…*er*, cinematic has resulted in a line of box office corpses. "Hitman" (IMDb listing) is the latest casualty; an overcooked time killer that finds bad acting, bad direction, bad cinematography, and bad screenwriting in a furious race to dominate the running time. I'd call it a four-way tie.

Living a life of murder clad in posh business wear, Agent 47 (Timothy Olyphant) is a contract killer with an enigmatic past, genetically bred to assassinate anyone as long as the price is right. Positioned as the patsy in a scheme to execute a Russian leader, 47 dashes around Europe to clear his name, taking a prostitute (model Olga Kurylenko) with him for answers, only to find himself consumed with protecting her. As the two plunge deeper into the conspiracy, an Interpol agent (Dougray Scott) is hot on their tail, rabid to stop 47 and expose his identity.

The appeal of the "Hitman" video games was the ability to play up John Woo theatrics and enjoy a healthy portion of Luc Besson anti-hero glorification. So, in turning "Hitman" into a movie, the production has created a film frighteningly derivative of the fruit of past action pioneers. It hopes the lure of its console origin will sucker the faithful into coughing up hard-earned cash to watch what normally passes for direct-to-video content, only without Steven Seagal or Wesley Snipes in the lead role.

As a movie, "Hitman" is a jumble of poorly executed ideas all fighting for screentime. Director Xavier Gens doesn't have the faintest clue how to rein everything in and mold a story out of this mess, so he allows the picture to run wild with generic action and political mumbo-jumbo. It's an overblown highlight reel of directorial exhaustion, topping itself with bullet cinema cliché after cliché.

The finest example of buffoonery being a shootout in one of those dingy Euro hideouts (you know, the ones with hookers and "Clockwork Orange" references laying about) where 47 detonates a bomb on a table of money, soon engaging in a slo-mo gunfight while cash rains from the sky Jay-Z style and bodies are soon pocked with juicy bullet wounds. In short: Gens has nothing innovative to offer the big screen; he's just another style-conscious boob with a budget.

The examples of pure ineptitude eventually pile up in a big way: cinematographer Laurent Bares' desire to smoke up a handful of scenes to a point of hilarity (the Interpol office looks like an opium den); composer Geoff Zanelli's tedious Hans Zimmer rip-off scoring; fight choreography that's lethargic, nonsensical, and overly rehearsed; Kurylenko's acting range, which is limited to ample nudity and fits of crying (not to mention the character's magical ability to retouch her eye makeup while riding in the trunk of a car); and finally the miscasting of a muted Olyphant in a role that requires brute force and almost sensual homicidal posture.

Olyphant isn't an actor of incredible range, and between this film and last summer's "Live Free or Die Hard," it's perplexing to see him cast in hostile roles. He has neither the mettle nor vocal density to pull off the role of Agent 47, looking silly brandishing monster guns, somersaulting around the frame, and summoning a sexual tango with Kurylenko. The role seems more tailored to a brawnier actor (say Jason Statham) who can pull off the mix of ambiguity and allure. Olyphant is lost in this movie, caught between a need for starring-role paychecks and his inherent limitations as a performer.

By the end of the film the audience learns absolutely nothing about 47's extensive secretive past (amounting to a huge chunk of plotting completely ignored), can barely locate the tiresome switcheroo plot, and is forced to ask this obvious question: if the hitmen value utmost secrecy, why do they all strut around in thousand-dollar suits with bar codes tattooed to the back of their bone-white shaved heads? In the gaming world, it's all part of the show. On the big screen, the whole enterprise looks quite ridiculous.

Filmfodder Grade: D