"Hitman" is 100 minutes of soul-crushing nothingness, an inactive action film so bankrupt of ideas and ambition that it doesn't even earn the label of disaster. Watching it is far from fun, fueled by lethargy rather than adrenaline. The plot, if one wants to call it that, is so incoherent that it makes 1996's notoriously confusing "Mission: Impossible" appear to have seamless storytelling. Whereas "Mission: Impossible" was difficult to follow because of its complexity, though, "Hitman" is nonsensical due to stunningly ill-equipped filmmaking. It makes no difference. By the half-hour mark, the viewer has long ago stopped caring about anything on the screen, and director Xavier Gens (whose acclaimed first film, the French-language horror item "Frontiere(s)," is still awaiting stateside release) does nothing thereafter to persuade him or her otherwise.
Whether the fault be placed on director Gens, or screenwriter Skip Woods (2001's "Swordfish"), or a studio (20th Century Fox) that allegedly clashed with both of their visions, the finished product being unleashed upon theaters nationwide is virtually unreleasable. Perhaps only aficionados of the video game "Hitman" is based on will be able to understand any of the goings-on, and that is solely due to preexisting background knowledge. For everyone else, the film is about a guy going by the name of Agent 47 (Timothy Olyphant) who was raised by "The Agency," an organization that trains unwanted young boys to grow into emotionless assassins with barcodes tattooed on the back of their heads. He becomes ensnared in a conspiracy involving Russian President Mikhail Belicoff (Ulrich Thomsen), takes wanted-for-dead prostitute Niko Baronina (Olga Kurylenko) under his wing, and must outwit capture from hot-on-his-trail Interpol agent Mike Whittier (Dougray Scott). Supposedly, there are also religious overtones to the video game, but these have been rendered next to nonexistent save for opening titles scored to "Ave Maria" and some business with an ornate cross with writing on it.
What is "Hitman" trying to accomplish with its very existence? As an action movie, the set-pieces are nonevents, a lot of bullets to the head without a hint of excitement or even any good stuntwork. One sequence in which Agent 47 faces off with three baddies by each of them dropping their guns and pulling out swords is purely imbecilic. The characters are void of, well, anything, the actors more or less playing faceless drones who want to kill each other. The dialogue is vacuous and asinine, with only one of Niko's lines"When I was a little girl, my father raised grapes"standing out because of how out of left field it is. As the barely-there narrative skips around Eastern Europe, the audience valiantly tries and fails to make heads or tails out of the images in front of them. Before long, staring off blankly into the distance is all that can be done to keep one's sanity until the end credits roll.
Timothy Olyphant is badly miscast as Agent 47. For a character actor who has been so eclectic and riveting in the pasttake a look at his standout work in 1999's "Go
" and 2004's "The Girl Next Door
" for proofthere is nary a hint of magnetism in what he does here. Olyphant comes off as too prissy and preppy for the role, and his character's curious asexuality leads one to question the true root of his disinterest in Niko's sensual come-ons. As Mike Whittier, Dougray Scott (2005's "Dark Water
") is notable only for the amount of times he takes out a cigarette, places it between his lips, doesn't light it, and then puts it back in his pack. If there is a saving graceand by saving grace, I mean something that doesn't make you want to gouge your eyes outit is Fairuza Balk-lookalike Olga Kurylenko (2007's "Paris je t'aime"), fetching as Niko. In a better film with workable material, she could really shine.
"Hitman" is monotonous, boring, infuriatingly disjointed, hopelessly one-note, and lacking the barest expectations of cohesion. Abysmal in the extreme, the film is a cinematic black hole for which nothing works, nothing resonates, and nothing rouses the senses. Attempting to locate redeeming qualities is as fruitless as trying to find a lake in the middle of an arid desert. Any way you shake it, this is a prime example of irredeemable moviemaking-by-committee gone terribly, unbelievably wrong.