About as long as it would take to select a skill level, choose a weapon, and press “Start,” the newly released film based on the video game of the same name, Hitman, gives viewers an instant array of dizzying action sequences and stunts.
The title character, known simply as Agent 47 and played by Timothy Olyphant, is a trained assassin-for-hire.
We see him early in the film in a strange orphanage operated by the mysterious “Agency” devoted to training young men to be nameless assassins. All of the assassins have their heads shaved with a bar code tattooed on the back.
The movie doesn’t bother answering such obvious questions as: How did he get here? What happened to their parents? Did the “Agency” just arrive at the front door and say “we want your son to train to be the most prolific killer in the nation?” Who knows.
After an impressive sequence in which Agent 47 cleverly assassinates an entire brigade of South African rebels, he ends up in St. Petersburg with his rifle viewfinder aimed at the head of Russian President Belicoff (Ulrich Thomsen).
He apparently succeeds in assassinating him. However, when the same assassinated president delivers a speech the next day, it is clear it was not the real president who was shot.
Did he have a double? Was Agent 47 set up by his own agency, Interpol?
All signs point that way when he is pursued by both Interpol and the Russian government.
Agent 47 wants answers and recruits Nika (Olga Kurylenko), a hooker who works for the president’s brother and was a witness to the assassination attempt, to help him.
One of the things I liked about Hitman was the chemistry between Olyphant and Kurylenko.
Agent 47 is required to speak very little dialogue, but we get a sense of his desire to emotionally connect with this woman even though he left his emotions at the orphanage.
There is a nice moment in a restaurant where Agent 47 is there to do a hit while Nika simply wants to have dinner. Her attempts to make him loosen up seem pitch perfect, and his concern for her feelings seem real as the hit goes off without a hitch while she remains oblivious to it.
Nevertheless, what eventually sinks the film are the action sequences and lack of adequate character development.
When the Hitman is fighting three other men armed with samurai swords in a subway tunnel, it feels like a standard action scene.
It’s not exhilarating, it’s not heart-pounding. We know the hero will not be killed, so we just watch it and mildly admire good stunt work.
There’s a sequence where an entire room is detonated and the hero takes on a phalanx of armed guards that seems oddly unmoving.
Then there’s the issue of the Russian president. Without revealing too much, I will simply say that the revelation about him was not surprising, and his actual motivation for doing what he does seems out of step with his genuine regard for his constituents.
Hitman was directed by Xavier Gens and written by Skip Woods. It knows the notes of a great action film but not the music.
After Lara Croft Tomb Raider and Resident Evil, this latest video game-to-film adaptation may succeed at the box office but it failed creatively. Several of these films, though, including the 2003 Tomb Raider sequel, failed at the box office.
One reason, perhaps, is because the video games just don’t easily translate to film.
When we play the Hitman game, we don’t need to know how he was manipulated by a cooperation, assigned with a number as opposed to a name, or why his head looks like a marked-down Cornish hen. All we need to know in the game is: Who do I kill and can I beat the last person’s high score?
Hitman the movie missed its target.