'Hitman: Agent 47': Film Review

Non-stop action quickly stops making sense.

Rupert Friend ('Homeland') stars as a killing machine in this slick version of a popular video game.

A movie based on a video game that opens at the end of August does not exactly stir high expectations. And indeed, Hitman: Agent 47 turns out to be exactly the kind of fast-paced, mind-numbing thriller that studios churn out to fill screens during the dog days of summer.

The producers convinced some classy actors to jump aboard this careening, nonsensical thrill ride, so a few fanboys may join the party opening weekend. But don’t expect to see the movie in September.

British actor Rupert Friend has made a striking impression on the last few seasons of Showtime’s Homeland, displaying an impeccable American accent as well as a strong masculine presence. He brings those two qualities back to work playing the title character in this German-American production.

A lump of exposition at the beginning tells us that in the 1960s, a top scientist manufactured perfect, robotic killing machines, soldiers who would be remorseless and implacable.The program was eventually abandoned, but at least one of the specimens survived. Now he’s back to wreak a lot of havoc, while shadowy forces try to destroy him and others hope to revive the super-military program that he embodied.

A woman named Katia (Hannah Ware) is the protagonist, the daughter of the master scientist who’s now in hiding. Both the good guys and bad guys believe that she can lead them to her father before he dies, so the chase is on. The movie borrows heavily from The Terminator in that a character named John Smith (don’t trust anyone with that name!) seems to be charged with saving the heroine from the Hitman who wants to wipe her out. But appearances deceive, and soon heroes and villains are turned upside down.

That much is clear; not much else makes sense in the hash of a screenplay concocted by Skip Woods and Michael Finch. It’s a bit hard to know who’s working for whom and what they all hope to gain. After a while, you give up trying to make sense of the plot and sit there gaping at the car crashes, fight scenes, and shootings. The problem is that even the mayhem quickly becomes repetitive. Too many of the characters are invincible, and it’s hard to get invested in people who are so hard to destroy. (Even Superman had to contend with Kryptonite.)

First-time director Aleksander Bach, a veteran of flashy commercials, keeps things hurtling forward, though even a slick action picture can quickly turn tedious when there’s nothing significant at stake. A pointless journey from Berlin to Singapore at least allows for some spectacular, scenic location shots.

Among the actors, Zachary Quinto as John Smith matches Friend’s sangfroid. Veterans Ciaran Hinds and Thomas Kretschmann give smooth performances in poorly written roles. Ware makes a mean action heroine who doesn’t need as much protection as the men think.

The ending leaves open the possibility of a sequel, but that is probably wishful thinking on the part of the producers. Timothy Olyphant played the Hitman in a 2007 version of the video game that led to nothing except this retread eight years later. Could the killing machine return again? In Hollywood, stranger things have happened.

Production companies: 20th Centruy Fox, TSG Entertainment
Cast: Rupert Friend, Hannah Ware, Zachary Quinto, Ciaran Hinds, Thomas Kretschmann, Angelababy
Director: Aleksander Bach
Screenwriters: Skip Woods, Michael Finch
Producers: Charles Gordon, Adrian Askarieh, Alex Young, Skip Woods
Executive producers: Daniel Alter, Michael Hendrickson, Marco Mehlitz
Director of photography: Ottar Gudnason
Production designer: Sebastian Krawinkel
Costume designer: Bina Daigeler
Editor: Nicolas De Toth
Music: Marco Beltrami

Rated R, 95 minutes