Gamers typically get all gooey when supposed console-less critics nitpick the big screen adaptation of their favorite platform title. It's part and parcel of the joystick jockey's mantle. Hitman, based on the popular series from Eidos Interactive, is the latest attempt to bring the PlayStation to the Cineplex. Begun in 2000, and with four gaming titles under its belt, players act as a hired assassin, working their way through various levels of intrigue and crazy, chaotic firefights. The purpose, clearly, is to slaughter everyone who's in your way. It's all bloodlust and cloying cat and mouse. Sadly, someone forgot to tell screenwriter Skip Woods about this. Instead, he's crafted something that plays like John Woo drained of all his slo-mo energy and drive. Even worse, it's then turned over to a director who further weakens the material's inherent excessiveness.
For three years, a top Interpol agent (Dougray Scott) has been chasing an elusive, unknown assassin. When a Russian politician is murdered, the cop clearly suspects that Number 47 (Timothy Olyphant) has struck again. The paid killer is informed that a prostitute named Nika (Olga Kurylenko) witnessed the crime. He is ordered to take her out. Of course, it's all a setup. Belicoff (Ulrich Thomsen), the supposedly dead candidate, shows up for a speech, and the Russian Intelligence community is out rattling 47's cage. Our antihero saves Nika from a bullet, travels to Istanbul to interrogate Belicoff's drug running brother Udre (Henry Ian Cusik) and returns to the scene of the initial shooting to discover why he was framed. Turns out, it has more to do with one man's paranoia and ambitions than a simple contract hit -- and 47 is destined to play a part in it all.
While it's not completely awful, Hitman is not very entertaining, either. It's all stodgy mythologizing and no ammunition magic. Part of the problem is its lack of genuine thrills. While one would think a little bullet ballet is mandatory as part of any take on the action genre, director Xavier Gens apparently see things differently. He gives all the material here -- the back story, the stunt set pieces, the sexual byplay, the impractical political intrigue -- the same static, stagnant tone. Instead of being blown away by 47's skills and smarts, we are constantly focusing on the lack of any viable cinematic flourishes. One could argue that Gens' limited skill behind the camera is the obvious reason for the film's lack of spectacle, but it's clear that Hitman takes itself too seriously to enjoy its ample arterial spray.
And then there's lead Timothy Olyphant. Though pumped up to play the part, he appears too slight, too sleek to be a brutal mind of calculated destruction. He's more like a big kid playing dress-up than a realistic hired gun. Of course, all Gens allows him to do is glower and speak succinctly. Apparently, diction is quite terrifying: Naturally, the biggest sin the film commits is the offense of being tedious. Nothing original or fresh happens throughout the narrative. Most of the material feels swiped from better examples of the genre -- and Gens didn't steal the good bits. A train station chase has none of the snap we saw in The Bourne Ultimatum, and 47's sword fight with three other members of his order makes the blade work in Ultraviolet seem epic.
With a confusing premise and an equally unfathomable conclusion, Hitman really misses the mark. It's more sullen than suspenseful, using blood and firepower as a replacement for atmosphere and pacing. In a year that's seen all manner of gun-toting extremes, from the ridiculously sublime Shoot 'Em Up to the sublimely ridiculous Smokin' Aces, it's clear that hyper-stylized ultra-violence can be presented in a highly effective and very entertaining manner. Somewhere along the line, Woods and Gens forgot this fact. They strove for something majestic, and produced mediocrity instead.
Let me frisk you real quick.