Friday 30 May 2008

Hitman (2007)

Friday 30 May 2008
Director: Xavier Gens
Writer: Skip Woods

Cast: Timothy Olyphant (Agent 47), Dougray Scott (Mike Whittier), Olga Kurylenco (Nika), Robert Knepper (Yuri Marklov), Henry Ian Cusick (Udre Belicoff), Ulrich Thomsen (Belicoff), Michael Offei (Jenkins) & Christian Erickson (General Kormarov)

A super-assassin becomes embroiled in a political cover-up, while being chased across Europe by Interpol...

The history of film adaptations of video-games is strewn with rotting carcasses; Street Fighter, Super Mario Bros., Resident Evil, Doom, et al. Even the adaptations that are okay (i.e, not awful) receive mixed reviews, like Mortal Kombat and Silent Hill. But maybe things are due to change, now that video-game designers are creating gaming experiences with the narrative complexity a movie demands. Upcoming adaptations of Halo, Bioshock and Half-Life are all armed with premises of more substance than "diminutive sibling plumbers rescue princess"...

Hitman sits somewhere in-between the old and new game-to-film mentalities. The game's premise, of a cloned super-assassin assigned a number instead of a name, is something a Hollywood screenwriter was bound to dream up one day, so the film essentially becomes an anti-Bond film using the game's bald-headed, bar-coded killer as its anti-hero. Hey, it can even lay claim to discovering future Bond Girl Olga Kurylenco.

Timothy Olyphant (Die Hard 4.0) stars as the eponymous hitman Agent 47, although the film unexpectedly opts to ignore the whole cloned assassin aspect of the game. 47's sci-fi back-story is inferred in opening flashbacks and the appearance of his bald "brothers" a little later, but it's all of little consequence. Strange actually, as the trailer implies the shadowy birth of Agent 47 by "The Organisation" will be the driving force of the narrative.

The actual storyline is a bit rambling and occasionally bewildering. It involves Agent 47 assassinating Belicoff, the Russian Prime Minister, only for him to miraculously survive the sniper shot. In actuality, Belicoff has been replaced by a double, who takes over as the country's leader. Simultaneously, 47 is being pursued across Europe by obsessive Interpol agent Mike Whittier (Dougray Scott), and later hooks up with grungy sex-kitten Nika (Kurylenco) – who isn't averse to walking through frame stark naked. It's safe to say you'll see more of Ms Kurylenco's curves here than Commander Bond will later in Quantum Of Solace.

After a surprisingly solid start, Hitman unfortunately starts to crawl along -- enlivened only by a few distracting action beats and eye-opening Olga. It's a shame, as Olyphant does a decent job with an underwritten cipher (forgiving a few unintentionally silly moments), and the film never feels like another dismal video-game adaptation. Indeed, if you're unaware of its pixel origins, you'll just consider it a sporadically exciting time-waster; a restrained xXx with failed dreams of Bourne Identity-like greatness. Interesting to note that xXx star Vin Diesel was supposed to headline, but dropped out at the last minute.

As the plot becomes something of a chore to follow, it's easier to just focus on the cat-and-mouse game between Whittier and 47, soak up the location shooting, ogle Olga, and enjoy the flashes of excitement as Agent 47 goes about his business with a ruthless, calm, violent efficiency. It's a shame the film avoids the quiet, stealthy approach the game asks its players to employ – which could have given it a more unique foundation. Ironically, that was the edict of the original game in a marketplace crowded with First Person Shooters. There are moments of the video-game's surreptitious vibe, but Agent 47 is pretty much a bald Jason Bourne-style hired gun, tailored by Tarantino.

With expectations sufficiently lowered, Hitman isn't too bad. It's just incredibly pale when compared to Bond, Bourne, Bauer – and doesn't run with its few unique qualities, like its character's anti-hero status and sci-fi genesis. Director Xavier Gens apparently submitted a very violent edit that the studio turned down – prompting them to hire Nicolas de Toth to re-shoot scenes while Gens was out of the country. Maybe that had an adverse effect on the finished film, who knows. Whatever the behind-the-scenes problems, thanks to a flaccid and dreary plot, Hitman becomes a mediocre also-ran of its genre -- although part of me believes a sequel, with a more visionary director and a less formulaic screenplay, might be worth a hit.

20th Century Fox
Budget: $17.5 million
94 minutes