Aside from the first Mortal Kombat and Resident Evil films, the quality of video game movies has ranged from being either the epitome of mediocrity or a death knell signifiying the end of cinema as we know it. What little I understand about the games Hitman is based upon makes it seem like a property with the potential to be an explosively entertaining buffet of bullets. But instead of embracing its frenetic side and really letting loose with the bloodshed, Hitman adopts a pretentious attitude while masquerading as high art.
Hot on the heels of playing the villain in Live Free or Die Hard, Timothy Olyphant steps into the shoes of an anti-hero known only as Agent 47. A member of a secret group called "the Organization," 47 has been bred to kill, trained since childhood to be an expert assassin for hire all across the globe. His latest assignment brings him to Russia, where he's been assigned to kill the country's president (Ulrich Thomsen) in front of a throng of people. The hit goes off without a hitch, until a minor complication arises: the president turns up alive and well on live television. In no time, 47 realizes he's been set up by the Organization, along with a Prostitute with a Heart of Gold (Olga Kurylenko), a woman he first takes hostage but ends up protecting from the scores of hired guns hunting them down, as he tries to figure out why his employers want him wiped out of the picture.
In short, Hitman feels like a re-dressed version of The Bourne Identity. You have a highly-trained killer with a sketchy past, a European beauty who ends up coming along for the ride, and a couple of "exotic" locales thrown in for good measure. What Hitman lacks, however, is true suspense, a compelling lead character, and a single memorable action sequence. Sadly, the film's style is more James Bland than James Bond. However, I understand the approach director Xavier Gens is aiming for by depicting Agent 47 as a stoic killer whose whole existence revolves around his job -- he's a cold and efficient machine of a man who shoots first without bothering to ask questions later.
Still, even Matt Damon's amnesiac Jason Bourne maintained an aura of mystery while projecting a subtle charisma. Olyphant, on the other hand, fills his performance with about as much life and energy as Eeyore from "Winnie the Pooh," listlessly launching himself from gunfight to gunfight. In the end, the character's most interesting aspect is his ability to go by undetected by the authorities -- despite having a shaven head with a bar code prominently tattooed on the back, all but inviting the cops to slap the cuffs on him.
During the action sequences, I was too busy trying to figure out who's fighting whom and for what reasons to get involved in the proceedings. I haven't seen a movie make this much noise or serve up a plot this nonsensical since Underworld: Evolution. It's steeped in politics and secret societies but never takes the time to explain exactly why 47 is in such a pickle. Thus, I felt even more removed from the already unexciting gun battles and sword duels, bland sequences that accentuate the greater creativity of action movies like Crank and Shoot 'Em Up.
If there's anything that saves Hitman, it's the relatively solid cinematography or Kurylenko's lovely face. I know it's not easy to screw up a movie in which one guy runs around shooting other guys, but Hitman boasts a crew that made this disappointment a reality.
MY RATING: * 1/2 (out of ****)
(Released by 20th Century Fox; not yet rated by MPAA.)