Hitman

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This review was written for the theatrical release of "Hitman." 

The hero in "Hitman" has a bar code tattooed on his head and kills people with professional nonchalance but can't bring himself to make love to the nearly naked Russian hottie who continually flings herself at him. Of course, this hero, known only as Agent 47, is a geek's poster boy, starring in a movie that looks like a video game because it is, in fact, based on a video game. So the hits come easy. But how do you manage romantic encounters in a video game?

At least "Hitman" is counterprogramming with a vengeance. Young males seeking escape from Disney's Thanksgiving flagship "Enchanted" have a safe haven. So the film might attract a sizable audience before retreating to DVD shelves, where it can compete for attention with its own video game.

The formula is not that far removed from James Bond except there's a hole at its center. Agent 47, played by a virtually expressionless Timothy Olyphant, is a soulless, emotionally dead protagonist. He dresses well and handles weaponry with aplomb but sees no difference between killing a man or buying a newspaper.

The other formula is Hong Kong martial arts, where a hero faces down multiple combatants. Even there, Jackie Chan and his imitators add a dash of slapstick comedy and a character to root for. But here, a French director, American writer and filmmakers from all over Europe, in their struggle to appeal to video gamers, strip away anything human for their Agent 47.

A precredit sequence is pretty vague, but this superassassin seemingly gets created through Frankenstein genetic engineering overseen by a bunch of Christian monks! Why would monks want to create hitmen for any toughs who will pay them? Anyway, Agent 47 apparently is the best of the breed, which means he is never in real jeopardy.

Agent 47's new assignment is to whack the top candidate for Russia's presidency (Ulrich Thomsen). He scores a kill shot from long range, but the victim shows up later that day to deliver a speech. What gives?

That's what Mike Whittier (Dougray Scott), an Interpol agent who has tracked this killer for years, wants to know. He feels a kind of proprietary pride in his "ghost." "My boy doesn't miss," he proclaims.

But a shady Russian spy chief (Robert Knepper) wants to cover up everything; the candidate's brother (Henry Ian Cusick) wants to go back to his everyday life peddling girls, drugs and black-market weapons; and for some reason everyone wants to kill a poor Russian prostie named Nika (Olga Kurylenko).

Agent 47 is told to kill her, but he takes one look and can't pull the trigger. Since he won't kill her or sexually attack her, Nika bitterly reproaches him for his "indifference" to her.

The movie bangs around from Moscow -- Sofia, Bulgaria, stands in for the Russian capital -- to Africa and Turkey as Agent 47 drags Nika from one massacre to another, making this one of the stranger cinematic courtships. All the while, the music screams and clamors like an ignored child because director Xavier Gens and writer Skip Woods can't pump suspense into this inept mess.

"You know, you're really quite charming when you're not killing people," Nika tells 47. Then again, prostitutes always tell men what they need to hear.

HITMAN
Fox
A EuropaCorp. and Charles Gordon/Adrian Askarieh production

Director: Xavier Gens
Screenwriter: Skip Woods
Based on the video game by: Eidos
Producer: Pierre-Ange Le Pogam, Charles Gordon, Adrian Askarieh
Executive producers: Janos Flosser, Vin Diesel
Director of photography: Laurent Bares
Production designer: Jacques Bufnoir
Music: Geoff Zanelli
Co-producer: Daniel Alter
Costume designer: Olivier Beriot
Editors: Carlo Rizzo, Antoine Vareille

Cast:
Agent 47: Timothy Olyphant
Mike Whittier: Dougray Scott
Nika: Olga Kurylenko
Yuri Marklov: Robert Knepper
Belicoff: Ulrich Thomsen
Jenkins: Michael Offei
Udre Belicoff: Henry Ian Cusick

MPAA rating R, running time 99 minutes.

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