I thought about opening with some variation on "More like "The Shitman's Bodyguard", but that's really not fair. The Hitman's Bodyguard isn't very good, indeed may very well be shit, but I take no pleasure in calling attention to it for such a failing. It's much sadder and pathetic as a bad movie than monstrously terrible, strenuously going through the motions of a wacky mismatched buddy comedy, plastering on its face a grin of bared teeth that in no way evokes good humor. It's a gravely unfunny motion picture of the sort that supposes that people screaming invective at each other is close enough to count as a joke, noisy and shill and manic in a manner that's irritating at the start, but merely grows tiresome after 15 or 20 minutes.

We meet the bodyguard before we meet the hitman: Michael Bryce (Ryan Reynolds) used to be a "AAA Diamond-rated executive security agent" or some such (the whole point of the joke is that it's a mouthful of buzzwords), but a couple of years back, he lost a client, and now spends his days providing half-assed security to middleweight executives in the UK. Elsewhere in the world, the horribly corrupt Belarusian President Vladislav Dukhovich (Gary Oldman, punching below his weight class, but at least he appeared to be having a fun time with the accent) is on trial at the International Criminal Court in The Hague, but his lawyers have successfully managed to deflect every nightmarish anecdote as the result of disgruntled political enemies. The frustrated INTERPOL agents involved in prosecuting Dukhovich have one last ace in the hole: legendarily prolific assassin Darius Kincaid (Samuel L. Jackson), currently serving a great many consecutive life sentences in Manchester. In exchange for his testimony concerning what he saw when Dukhovich tried to hire him, Kincaid will get a fairly shitty deal, but it's all he wants: his beloved wife Sonia (Salma Hayek) will be released from the trumped-up charges against her. Only there's a leak in INTERPOL, and when Agent Amelia Roussel (Elodie Yung) attempts to move Kincaid, Dukovich's men very nearly succeed in killing him. Thinking on her feet, she can only come up with one solution: Michael is her ex, and it was obviously a bad break-up, but she knows he alone can guarantee Kincaid's safety. Even though the two men have had no fewer than 28 nasty run-ins in the past.

That's a lot of words for "Ryan Reynolds is one man who shots guns, Samuel L. Jackson is a different man who shoots guns, and they hate each other, but they're forced to spend the whole movie in the same car". But part of the weird charm of The Hitman's Bodyguard is how oddly larded it is with plot details. Like, particularly and most obviously, the bit where the entire story revolves around an ICC trial of a dictator in an ex-Soviet nation, leading to lots of catty jokes about the ineffectual toothlessness of INTERPOL. Not material I would have expected to see in a movie pitched to mainstream summertime American audiences, but there we are.

It's a lot of heavy lifting to get us to the nominal focus of the piece, which is Jackson and Reynolds cursing at each other in loud, whiny tones. Or, anyway, Reynolds doing that. Jackson is surprisingly dour and angry for a change, which makes the thing even less funny. Though it does feel more like he's playing a character than just a giant box that says "mothafucker" every time director Patrick Hughes presses the big red button. It has the benefit of not being lazy, which is a nice contrast to his co-star: Reynolds is basically just doing Deadpool again.

The interactions between the two were tired boilerplate by the mid-'80s: Michael is a by-the-books sort of guy, carefully planning out everything to maximise his and his charge's safety; Kincaid is a madcap with a hyper-inflated sense of his own invulnerability. They don't get together at all, until such time as they inevitably do. The film has a corresponding '80s-style sense of action, and here, at least, it acquits itself moderately well. Hughes's last feature was 2014's The Expendables 3, also a throwback to that decade's golden age of brawny action films, and while it absolutely sucked, it apparently taught him enough to give him a decent handle on what to do here. It would be impossible to defend The Hitman's Bodyguard as a particularly inspired action film, but it's at least good enough to pass the time on a lazy Saturday afternoon sometime when it pops on USA or TBS or one of those other "programming for suburban dads" stations.

Hell, it even has one genuinely admirable action setpiece (which is surely why it was disproportionately featured in the film's ad campaign): Kincaid behind the wheel of a car, Michael on foot, both of them racing headlong through Amsterdam in a sequence that editor Jake Roberts cross-cuts with something approaching actual creativity and insight. And this turns out to be the one saving grace of The Hitman's Bodyguard, if indeed it has one: like the action-comedies of yesteryear, it tends to frontload the comedy, and backload the action. Which is useful when the action is as considerably superior to the comedy as it is here. If nothing else, The Hitman's Bodyguard improves as it goes along, and I, for one, find it easier to enjoy a film that's getting better than one that's getting worse, even if the absolute quantities of good and bad material are about the same. Certainly, the bad material in this particular film is especially dire, and the good material merely serviceable, so even this cheat isn't remotely enough to force The Hitman's Bodyguard into "actually, this is worth watching" territory. It is most certainly not worth watching. It is, however, substantially less painful than it it promises to be at the start, and maybe even good enough to be worthy of a rental some day down the road, when you have the ability to fast-forward between all of the miserable character-driven parts that are pretending to be funny.