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Hitman: Let’s make an action movie about a stealthy assassin

We all know that video games don’t translate to movies as well as comic books and other story forms. If you’ve had the misfortune of seeing a Mortal Kombat or Resident Evil movie you are painfully aware. Still, I’m a glutton for punishment so here we go. Hitman was a beautiful game my roommate got me started on in college. I jumped in with Hitman 2, but the plot was simple enough to pick up. Main character baldy is a trained assassin trained by some super secret global organization and he has a strange affinity for St. Petersburg, Russia. A place whose existence firefox’s spell check denies apparently. It should be noted he is one of many bald orphan assassins, I know this because our guy is number 47. There is nothing I love more in a video game than sneaking in and taking out my targets using maximum stealth. It is a great feeling of power to walk in to a maximum security facility, strangle the target, and walk back out like I own the joint. As I said, I never played Hitman 1, Hitman: Contracts or Hitman: Blood Money, so I can’t speak to the plots in those particular games as they relate to the movie, though according to Blue Shoes Blood Money was a plotless game devoted to wading around in pools of blood in pursuit of your target. I can say that the movie’s plot is surprisingly similar to that of the game I eventually bought for Gamecube when my lappy died.

Though to play up the suspense we are following an Irish Interpol inspector who is hot on the trail of 47. Now, how this Interpol agent knows he’s been after 47 and not one or more of the other Organization killers for the last three years is beyond me, especially since he’s never seen the guy, but whatever. We need a good guy to round out the cast, apparently. In reality the inspector is merely a means to give us unimportant back story and to provide 47 with a sounding board for his moral conflicts. We spent a bunch of time in a city I would know nothing about without the Hitman franchise, St. Petersburg. Agent 47 kills some dudes, then gets chased by people looking to kill him, then makes a mad dash deep into Russia for the sole purpose of reaffirming my conviction that Russia is not a country I want to visit ever. I’ve never been enamored with over populated Europe, and Africa is in my mind the slums of the world. Russia is in my mind a land full of mud, snow, and little old ladies drunk on vodka run by a government willing to gas a church full of civilians so they can shoot up a tower of the church to kill one guy. It’s fine, all the citizens woke up in half an hour with a splitting headache, probably.

The movie doesn’t quite have the level of gore seen in Blood Money, it has the violence and, it has significantly more nudity. When a key character in the plot is a prostitute you can bet she’s going to strip down. Speaking of plot, Hitman plots have never been big in the common sense department, but the movie I found hard to follow at times. Unfortunately it’s not in a clever European independent film you weren’t paying attention sort of way, it’s very much in a get the plot out-of-the-way so we can get back to the explosions and gun play sort of way. This is especially abrasive when you consider that the Hitman is King Cool. Mr. Stealth. Trained by ninjas and bred by the best of the best CIA, MI6, KGB, Spetsnaz, Green Berets, Seal Teams, Mossad and every other secret government agency that tends to breed on shore leave. Granted, walking into a room full of drug dealers and lighting the place up like the Fourth of July is an entertaining break from sneaking through sewers, I always felt I was breaking the code when I did it.

It is this complicated pendulum swing between homicidal maniac and smooth, clean assassin that trips up this would-be action flick. Hollywood desperately wanted to make a hardcore action movie worthy the all mighty Rambo himself, but Hitman’s premise forced them to hold back. Instead they tried to mix a bit of psychological and moral conflict together with the violence but this half-hearted attempt serves only to muddy the plot’s already murky waters. We’re left with well choreographed fights and over the top shootouts broken up by pop philosophy. It’s too bad because some of the action scenes are particularly well done. Namely the early scene in which 47 finds himself battling four of his fellow assassins. The scene has the feel of a reunion between greats returning to the game of their youth in one last bit of nostalgia.

No you may not see the back of my head.

Perhaps the most crucial aspect of the movie was the casting of Agent 47. It’s true, to get the look  down all you need is a white guy willing to shave his head and have a fake UPC tattoo put on the back of his skull. Timothy Olyphant fits the bill as well as any other white guy in Hollywood. Supposedly Vin Diesel was the first choice for a role, so we dodged the proverbial bullet there. Olyphant has the Hitman strut down pat, and he’s capable of duel wielding a pair of identical silenced .45’s. Anyone who has watched their 47 stroll quietly through any number of scenarios for hours on end knows the importance of nailing his unique gait. But when we get to 47’s demeanor he begins to falter. Calm, cool, and collected, virtually emotionless is what we’re going for here. Think Keanu Reeves without the brainless chatter. But Olyphant has to push the envelope and make a mess of the situation. That is subtle enough to be excusable, but his voice is not. For those of us who have never heard of this kid, you may remember him as the obnoxious detective from Gone in 60 seconds. You know, “Are you alright? Are you sure? ‘Cause you just went through a wall.” His voice is a far cry from the smooth as a 50-year-old cognac baritone of David Bateson. Bateson was the voice of 47 in the video games and eerily resembles 47. So why didn’t the voice actor, sometimes live action man get chosen for the role he was born to play? Well if you believe everything you read on the internet he told a group of rabid fans on the Hitman forums it was little more than Hollywood politics.

I began watching this movie when I found it on one of those “watch new releases for free on the interwebs: we’re totally legit I swear” sites about three years ago and when it cut out consistently at 30 minutes in I got frustrated and vowed to find a way to finish it. So, it finally came up on Netflix queue and here I am. Kicking myself for ever bothering with a movie that, like all movies based on games, never had snowball’s chance in hell of being any good. Lesson learned. So what’s next in my queue? Max Payne, naturally.

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