Exec #1: "OK, so we bought the rights to this hot (old) video game. We need a story."
Exec #2: "What's the game called?"
#2: "OK, so it's a movie about an assassin. This stuff writes itself."
#1: "Yeah, but how much action should we put in there? Action scenes are really expensive, you know..."
#2: "Hey, I got it. Instead of going the 'action route' let's try something different. Let's focus more on those "plot" scenes from the video game that I'm just sure everyone watches, despite the fact that you can press ENTER and skip over 'em at any time. They're mostly dialog!"
#1: "Great, get me a young French director who'll do whatever we say, a screenwriter who hasn't written a flick in five years, and a lead actor who couldn't possibly be a worse fit for this 'hitman' guy. And go easy on the action scenes."
#2: "Cool. Production starts tomorrow. The marketing team has the trailer all set to go."
I'm sorry, but when you go to a restaurant and order, say, peanut butter and jelly, you'd be justifiably annoyed if the sandwich showed up without the peanut butter. You'd probably demand a refund if you purchased a cat with no spine ... and it would definitely be cause for alarm if you bought a porno mag that offered only two naked pictures. But when it comes to Hollywood action pics, we're completely inured to the scam by now: Generate just enough flashy action to fill a two-minute trailer, and that's really all your movie needs. Once you get the people into the cinema ... who cares? They already paid their money, right?
If it sounds like I'm annoyed, it's for good reason. As a big fan of what we like to call "mindless action flicks," I think I'm able to focus on any genre film's few assets and then make a case on why the movie succeeds or fails at delivering some entertainment. Trust me on this one: The only thing entertaining about the horrific Hitman is its powerfully silly screenplay, its crazily contorted narrative structure, and its unwavering dedication to poor storytelling -- unless, of course, you're a big fan of cinematic jigsaw puzzles, and you're dying to see what an unfinished one looks like.
Based on what I'm told is a very popular video game in which an assassin kills many people, Xavier Gens' cinematic rendition is, well, it's basically awful across the board. As mentioned, the screenplay (by Swordfish scribe Skip Woods) is just as aggressively generic as it is patently boring. So the scene-to-scene dialog is one of three things: A) obvious exposition, B) wafer-thin character development, or C) clunky ADR exclamations that sound as awful as the hilariously inept dubbing on some of the foreign actors. Yeah, Hitman isn't just obvious and tired; it's pretty sloppily-constructed as well. Oh, and (yet again) we're held captive by a director who'd rather shoot in and around an action scene than simply plant his damn tripod and deliver something with some clear visual logic to it. (Everyone wants to be Bourne, eh?)
Even a first year film student could tell that Hitman was once something quite a bit larger than its theatrical cut. Scenes don't so much a flow into one another as they do fishtail, logjam and bottleneck. More than once during this painfully simplistic 89-minute time-waster was I forced to wonder where (and when) certain scenes were meant to take place. (Wait, is this a flashback? Who's that Russian guy? Why are we in a dance club all of a sudden?) Editorially, the thing's a stunning mess. Hitman feels like twenty short films played back to back, only a few of the mini-movies went missing, and the projectionist is hoping you won't notice.
A blank-faced Timothy Olyphant plays a bald assassin with a bar-code tattooed to the back of his massive, shiny head. (He slopes through the movie looking like a well-dressed Mr. Clean on downers.) And since Timothy Olyphant is probably best-known for injecting a subversive little edge into all of his roles, it only makes sense that here he's asked to play an emotionless automaton totally bereft of wit, dimension or personality. On the rare occasion when an action sequence does surface, Tim just squints and scowls his way through the hyper-edited mayhem -- as if he's as bored as the rest of us. As far as the "heroic" Interpol agent is concerned, Dougray Scott wields precisely two expressions: confused and extremely confused.
To go into the specific plot threads would be pointless. There seems to be a through-line that centers on a faked political assassination and the ways in which our mega-bland anti-hero gets embroiled between Interpol, the Russian Secret Service, a frequently topless whore, and a mysteriously also-bald assassin ... but basically it's little more than "plot stuff" that you'd happily skip over while playing through the Hitman video game. Put aside the 3.5 almost-exciting action scenes and you've got a sloppy and practically incomprehensible mess of a movie. Toss the action scenes back into the flick, and things don't get a whole hell of a lot better.
Game fans should stick with the game. Movie fans have much better ways to spend 90 minutes.