If Hitman were made in the Sixties, I’d probably love it. But it wasn’t. It was made in 2007, and, for better or for worse, I have different expectations from a modern movie and a Sixties movie. Don’t ask me why. Maybe the amazing fashions, colors and hairdos of that decade go far enough that I don’t care as much about little things like plot and characterization? I’ll admit, I’m a huge sucker for Sixties glamor. Or maybe Sixties movies, with their sparse and paint-colored blood, somehow seem a little bit more innocent, thus acquitting the sleaziest of heroes as a product of his time? Probably a bit of both.
Hitman is essentially a Eurospy movie, but one made today. A sort-of suave hero (known only as Agent 47) with no discernible morals travels throughout (limited) exotic European and near-Eastern locations in the company of a beautiful woman and some third-rate gadgets, getting into (comparatively) low-budget bash-ups here and there and killing with no regard for human life, all the while playing off the CIA against Russian Intelligence and Interpol in order to find out who betrayed him. And all on a fairly tight budget of European money, with European crews, and just a couple of second-tier American or British stars thrown into the mix to lend a tad of box office clout. That’s the pattern for dozens of Sixties Eurospy scenarios, and it’s also the blueprint for Hitman.
The latest Die Hard villain, Timothy Olyphant plays the titular assassin, Agent 47, and M:I:II villain and Enigma star Dougray Scott plays the tireless Interpol inspector determined to bring him down. In a nod to the videogame on which it’s based (which I’ve never played), Agent 47 has a shaved head with a barcode tattooed on the back of it. For an agent who is supposed to be "a ghost," such an attention-grabbing appearance seems a little counter intuitive, but I’m willing to grant the movie this indulgence. In theory, it’s a cool look, although they should have cast an actor who looks badass bald (where’s Jason Statham when you need him?) instead of one who looks kind of doofy. All of the other agents of his shadowy assassination bureau also sport the same look, not only making them easy to spot in a crowd, but also hard to tell apart in a melee. There are a lot of bald guys in the movie. Most, but, confusingly, not quite all, are assassins, so be sure to look for the telltale barcode.
Despite a look that does him a disservice, Olyphant is thoroughly decent in the lead role, although the script offers him little to work with. The scenery is great. Whether it was actually shot in Moscow and St. Petersburg or not (I’m not sure), Hitman makes the most of the Eastern European locations at its disposal. (In fact, the modern Bond movies could take a note in terms of letting the camera sight-see just a bit longer!) There’s even a welcome side-trip to Istanbul, a fantastic staple of Sixties spy movies not put to enough use these days. And none of the action scenes are bad, although none are good enough for me to easily recall them a day later, either. The obligatory girl, a Russian prostitute (Olga Kurylenko), is easy on the eyes and not a bad actress despite, once again, having virtually nothing to work with, so she fulfills all the demands of a classic Eurospy leading lady. So where does it fall short?
I think it’s just in the spirit. It was those fashions, those colors, that glamor, that seething sexuality, that made the Sixties Eurospy films work so well. Unlike its forbears, Hitman is utterly sexless. It may offer more nudity (actually taking advantage of its R rating in that department, as well as the violence), but its hero is so chaste that he not only displays zero chemistry with Kurylenko, but rebuffs all of her blatant advances by zapping her with some sort of knock-out ring. Were he Tony Kendall or Ken Clark, he would have had no compunction about sleeping with her and several other random women as well! Perhaps it’s the removal of several decades that makes their brand of sleaziness so watchable, but Hitman’s (limited to remorseless killing rather than sleeping around) a little off-putting. Whatever the reason, I’ve come to expect just a tad of characterization from modern action films, and the Eurospy shorthand just doesn't work anymore.
Eurospy enthusiasts will still derive some enjoyment from Hitman (as I did, primarily from its locations), even if it's devoid of that apparently unreproducible Sixties soul. It's probably best to wait for DVD, though, rather than shelling out to see it in theaters.