Written by: Mike Caccioppoli, Feature Film Critic
As I peruse the IMDB user comments for the new release Hitman, I see that one guy promises that fans of the original game "will not be disappointed."
I don't play video games. I haven't since I was 12. I know I'm about to sound like a fuddy-duddy here, but the games for today's youth are abhorrently violent. That said, I guess you couldn't make movies out of Pac-Man and Donkey Kong, though the harmlessness of those games didn't prevent a lot of bad Saturday morning cartoons being made in their name.
But despite my crotchety complaints about violence in video games, the game Hitman does provide 32-year-old director Xavier Gens with a host of vivid imagery with which to show off his visual flair. It's an impressive, though mixed, American debut for the Frenchman, whose modest resume – some French action flicks, a few assistant directing gigs in the States – somehow persuaded a Hollywood suit to throw a bunch of money at him to adapt a video game. (Maybe sports superagent Scott Boras crossed over to land Gens this sweet job.)
Anyway, like the film itself, Gens is most comfortable when bullets and bodies are flying through the air. The director and his movie are less effective when the body-count-o-meter slows its inexorable race toward four figures.
Deadwood sheriff Timothy Olyphant plays the titular agent (Agent 47 in this case), who's been engineered to make morticians rich. He also bears a barcode tattoo that identifies him and looks really cool. I don't know how much he rings up as at the supermarket, but I know he rings up a lot of bodies – zing!
The plot, such as it is, kicks into gear when Agent 47 attempts to assassinate the Russian president and fails. In the wake of this, Agent 47 finds himself caught in the standard-issue web of international intrigue. The movie tries to emulate the fascinating latticework of conspiracies seen in the Bourne Identity movies – and fails.
But I don't want to be too hard on screenwriter Skip Woods. The studio assigned him to conjure up a storyline from a video game, and he swung for the fences. Woods packs into his movie multiple plotlines, Russian presidents, a British detective (Dougray Scott) and a prostitute (Olga Kurylenko) who knows too much. Unfortunately, the individual parts add up to a confusing whole. There are some gems, though, such as a subplot about Agent 47 refusing the advances of Kurylenko's prostitute. It's a surprisingly satisfying anti-James Bond move to make this movie's hero sexually evasive (impotent?), and it leads us to suspect that Agent 47's childhood training was more horrific than we know.
Olyphant brings a sincerity to his role that lets us care for his character even when he’s dropping people like a viral outbreak, but Olyphant can only do so much. I can understand why Gens keeps us at arm's distance from his hitman – he has to keep his killer shrouded in myster, after all – but it left me cold. It also doesn't help that scenes with secondary characters feel rushed, as if Gens couldn't wait to get to the next gunfight.
And I don't blame him. Hell, playing to your strengths isn't a crime, and Gens delivers highly stylized gun- and sword-fights, which is what fans of the game want anyway, isn't it?
Films like Hitman aren’t made for people like me; they're made for fans of the original material – in this case a violent video game with snazzy visuals. The film follows suit by being incredibly violent and well shot. It has a solid performance by Olyphant as the calculating killer. That user on IMDB is probably right; fans of the video game won’t be disappointed, but most others will probably feel pretty much indifferent about the entire proceedings.
I know I did.