Sunday, June 9, 2024

Hit Man: A Review (Review #1820)



There have been more than a few films that are not technically true despite being "based on a true story". Hit Man joins their ranks, taking a light approach to the subject matter. Longer than it should be, with some good central performances, Hit Man made me smile though I am still put off by one element.

Gary Johnson (Glen Powell) narrates his story. Johnson is a professor of psychology and philosophy in New Orleans. He has a side gig working for the New Orleans Police Department in undercover operations. His job is to provide listening and recording devices in sting operations, almost all related to the hiring of hitmen. The latest assignment hits a snag when Jasper (Austin Amelio) is suspended by the NOPD. Needing someone for the latest operation, Johnson is thrown into the assignment by two other officers: Claudette (Retta) and Phil (Sanjay Rao). 

Adopting the nom de guerre "Ron", he proved surprisingly successful at his first on-the-field operation. It is not long before "Ron", adopting various disguises catering to the specific target, is raking in potential clients for the police to arrest. Gary is enjoying his new venture, until Madison (Adria Arjona) comes into their meeting location.

Madison wants Ron to kill her husband, but Ron senses something different about Madison. She is nervous, hesitant, explaining that she is in an abusive relationship. Ron uncharacteristically urges her to take the money and start over, which is technically not breaking the sting but displeases everyone. Shortly afterwards, they meet again after Madison reaches out to Ron for a non-hitman-related event. Soon, they begin a romance and passionate affair.

Unfortunately, Madison's ex Ray (Evan Holtzman), encounters them outside a club. "Ron" pulls out his weapon, thrilling Madison and scaring both Ray and Gary, albeit for different reasons. In a twist, Ray reaches out to "Ron" for a hit, and now the various entanglements of Ron/Gary and Madison soon start becoming muddled and murderous. Did Madison take matters into her own hands? Will Gary/Ron find his way through the mess without being discovered?

Hit Man was inspired by a real-life person named Gary Johnson (1947-2022), minus the murdering part as the closing text informs us. Hit Man comes from some of the same people who brought us Bernie, another tale of comic killing. You have director and cowriter Richard Linklater (writing with the film's star, Glen Powell). You also have in a more circuitous manner the involvement of Skip Hollandsworth, who cowrote Bernie and wrote both Texas Monthly articles Bernie and Hit Man inspired. I was not big on Bernie, finding it too broad, though I may revisit it. 

Hit Man was not as broad, but I still had a few issues with it. The film is almost two hours long, and I think that much could have been trimmed. I appreciate that it is a showcase for Powell's range, but once the film started focusing more on Gary/Ron and Madison's kinky sexcapades, we did not have to go back to him being a fake hired killer. Same for a scene involving Gary's ex-wife Alicia (Molly Bernard). Alicia appears, if memory serves correct, only once, and does not add anything to the plot.

As a side note, I am not big on voiceovers.

Once we got to see Gary/Ron and Madison in various trysts, we could have shifted our attention there. 

I do see the temptation to make Hit Man into a more droll comedy, with occasional moments of broadness. Amelio's Jasper was broad, with his end played somewhat for laughs. That did not sit well with me. The ending did not sit well with me either. Though I know that Hit Man is fictional with regards Gary doing any actual killings, I still found the concept of Gary and Madison getting away with multiple murders to end as a happily married couple, well, disturbing and distressing.

Something about that did not sit well with me. I think I was meant to find Gary and Madison charming. I found them slightly repulsive by the end, more Madison than Gary. That is more due to Powell. 

There has been a concerted effort to build up Glen Powell as the next big star. Starting in small roles in films like Hidden Figures, he has built up bigger parts like in Devotion and especially Top Gun: Maverick. Now with Hit Man, Anyone But You and the upcoming Twisters, the Push for Powell is at full throttle. Yes, Powell did a good job here, essentially playing a variety of characters: Gary, Ron in many forms and Ron: the Madison version. It may be a case of "too much of a good thing" with so much work he has to do. However, one can accept Powell in these many roles.

Arjona was better as the vulnerable and kinky Madison than some kind of femme fatale. The last section when we find out that she took matters into her own hands was the weakest part of her performance. While not bad, I was not overwhelmed with her.

The supporting cast was strong. Amelio has this sleazy character down, yet he also managed good moments of actual police work; he figured out that Gary was involved with Madison, which no one else did. Retta and Rao were a good double-act as the detectives overseeing the various stings. I would not have minded seeing a film around them. I do not mean a sequel or spinoff, but a separate film with Gary and Madison as the supporting characters.

I thought Hit Man was fine, if perhaps overpraised. I smiled more than laughed, but Hit Man is serviceable. 


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