The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard (2021) ****

Contrary to all my expectations – and the opinions of the Rotten Tomatoes critical aggregate – this was a blast. The over-the-top tongue-in-cheek action thriller is dominated by Salma Hayek who acts as a glorious foil to the bickering bad boys. Had she not been so well established, this would have been a career-making turn. It might yet give her a fresh burst of cinematic life away from the serious stuff to which she has previously devoted her screen life.

This movie follows the new rule for sequels, in that often these days they are better than the original. I had not been so taken with The Hitman’s Bodyguard (2017), which basically turned on the old idea of a mismatched duo with a more straightforward storyline.

This time round, disgraced bodyguard Michael Bryce (Ryan Reynolds) is forced out of a very brief self-imposed retirement by Sonia Kincaid (Salma Hayek), who had small role in the original, to rescue husband Darius (Samuel L. Jackson) from gangsters. The main plot is straightforward enough – Greek shipping tycoon Aristotle Papadopolous (Antonio Banderas) plans to hold Europe to ransom after the EU imposes financial sanction on his native country by knocking out all digital communication throughout the continent. Interpol agent Bobby O’Neill (Frank Grillo) forces the trio to work together to foil the plot.

But there are a host of wonderful, and occasionally surprisingly emotional, subplots. For a Start Sonia is desperate to become a mother with question-marks about Darius’s ability or wish to make her pregnant. Bryce has vowed to give up violence and we get to meet his father, a legendary hitman (Morgan Freeman) who adds surprising complications to the story. Bobby O’Neill is constantly at odds with boss Crowley (Caroline Goodall) and can barely understand a word spoken by Scottish interpreter Ailso (a very dry Alice McMillan). Aristotle once had a thing for Sonia and his chief bodyguard Magnusson (Tom Hopper) is by far the coolest bodyguard on show.

The action just batters along, fueled by various plot twists, and there is hardly a pause for breath as the hitmen and their adversaries destroy a ton of Europe’s most attractive cities. There are also plenty of laugh-out-loud moments. There’s nothing remotely serious about the plot beyond personal issues facing the trio and that the preposterousness reaches high-octane levels only adds to the fun. If it’s not a shoot-out, it’s a chase. If the trio are not killing each other, they are trying to save each other. And there is a surprise ending which may trigger another sequel.

Salma Hayek (Oscar-nominated for Frida, 2002) at full throttle both emotionally, vocally and in murderous mode steals the picture. She delivers some hilariously salty dialogue in amongst the profanity and proves no slouch in the cunning department. All guns blazing is her default. Ryan Reynolds (Deadpool, 2016) I found to be surprisingly good, too, a long way from the cocky screen persona he has inhabited of late, most of the time here emotionally vulnerable, in part due to his current antipathy towards violence but also from childhood demons, and spending most of the time taking one beating after another, once so convincingly dead that hitman and wife callously dump his overboard.

Samuel L. Jackson (Glass, 2019) could play this kind of role in his sleep but he, too, is given some emotional depth. Only Antonio Banderas (The Mask of Zorro, 1998) overplays his role. Caroline Goodall (Hunter Killer, 2018) is great as the crisp authority figure and Frank Grillo (Point Blank, 2019) as the eternal underling. It’s great to see Oscar-winner Morgan Freeman (The Shawshank Redemption, 1994) back in action – and more action than you might initially expect – and there is a cameo from Richard E. Grant (Withnail and I, 1987).

Patrick Hughes reprises his directorial duties, respectively, from the original and turns in a fresh take.

I caught this on my weekly Monday Night at the Cinema outing, catching films on the big screen before they are belittled on the small screen.