by Mel Valentin
Slip the phrase "videogame adaptation" (as in game to screen adaptation) and the word “best” into a casual conversation with gamers and you'll probably get one or several of the following reactions: a blank stare, a furrowed brow, an extended pause, a shoulder shrug, or an evasive answer. Every year movie studios release videogame adaptations hoping to translate the billions the videogame industry brings in hand over joystick into sizable box office returns (let’s skip critical approval for now). In most cases, the producers of videogame adaptations are disappointed. Which brings us to the adaptation of EIDOS’ videogame long-running franchise (four games with a fifth on the way), "Hitman," an ultra-violent, overblown, clichéd actioner.Raised by the “Organization” (yes, Hitman is that generic) into an emotionless, brutally efficient killer without a name, Agent 47 (Timothy Olyphant), receives his latest assignment: assassinating the Russian president, Mikhail Belicoff (Ulrich Thomsen). Always dressed in a dark suit, white shirt, and red tie, the bald-headed Agent 47 is all the more conspicuous by the barcode tattooed to the back of his head (to remind restless moviegoers that they’re watching a videogame adaptation). If you’re even tangentially familiar with the videogame, then you know that coolness trumps logic every time. Given the "double-chase" formula in effect (i.e., the hero or lead character has to be on the run from the authorities and searching for the real villains simultaneously), Agent 47 has to go up against a well intentioned, if misguided law enforcement type. Right on cue, an Interpol's field agent, identified only as Mike (Dougray Scott), has been tracking Agent 47 and his globetrotting handiwork.
"Please hit the reset button on your way out. Thanks."
Agent 47's marksman-like shot hits Belicoff, but minutes later the Russian president emerges from the crowd, wounded but alive. Given how easily he stands out in a crowd, Agent 47 believes his handler, Diana, when she informs him that a witness saw him at some point during the assassination attempt, but when Agent 47 spots the witness, Nika (Olga Kurylenko), on a crowded sidewalk (the better to be noticed, apparently), he hesitates. Realizing that the Organization has sent other assassins after him, Agent 47 grabs Nika and goes on the run. Almost immediately, the enmity between Agent 47 and Nika dissolves into romantic attachment, or at least it does when he’s not drugging her so he can kill his way to the men behind Belicoff’s “fake” assassination and the contract on Agent 47 and Nika.
Let’s begin the discussion of Hitman with Skip Woods’ (Swordfish) formulaic screenplay. Forget cleverer-than-thou one-liners or sophisticated wordplay. Woods’ derivative script “delivers” a storyline that shamelessly borrows and steals from the Bourne series and xXx. Besides the dull, predictable, generic storyline, Woods manages to tell us almost nothing about Agent 47 or the Organization that presumably kidnapped him at an early age and trained him to become an assassin on their payroll. To learn that much and more, we’d have to wait for the sequel (wishful thinking on the producers’ part). Woods also doesn’t bother to shade in the motivations of the Russian heavies (yes, Russians again) other that they dislike or disagreed with Belicoff’s “moderate” policies.
Then there’s the director, Frenchman Xavier Gens (Frontier(s)), making his first, and most likely last, English-language film, to discuss. Why? Because it’s in the film critic’s rule book, that’s why. Gens’ approach to translating Hitman from videogame to screen is as subtle as a brass-knuckled punch to the back of the head or a kick from a steel-toed boot to the groin. Gens’ hyper-stylized direction is crammed with unimaginatively staged, repetitive gunplay and rapid-fire swordplay antics. Gens has Olyphant doing his best (and by best, we really mean lame) imitation of action demigod Chow Yun Fat as he mowed down disposable henchmen from any one of John Woo's early actioners (e.g., The Killer, Hard Boiled, A Better Tomorrow I and II).Either way, it’s hard to imagine fans of the "Hitman" videogame franchise will find much of anything to like here. While Olyphant superficially resembles the Agent 47 character, he delivers his lines with little enthusiasm (understandable, given the script he had to work with and around). Ukrainian actress Olga Kurylenko doesn’t have a problem with wearing very little or nothing at all in most of her scenes, but does a credible job emoting for the cameras when the screenplay calls for it. And that’s it as far as the otherwise undistinguished cast goes. Ultimately, the best that can be said about "Hitman" is that moviegoers will quickly find something else to talk about as soon as the lights go up (e.g., where they should go for a late night snack or where they parked the car).
link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=16777&reviewer=402
originally posted: 11/22/07 13:00:00