Arts & Entertainment

Dreadful dialogue keeps "Hitman" from finding its mark

After watching Hitman, I've got a pretty good idea why there was no dialogue in its trailer.

It's because it was super, super good.

No, I'm kidding. It was awful! The dialogue, that is, and not the movie, which was merely not good. Actually, it's kind of uncool action movies can have an entire trailer free of talking and still look like something I'd like to see.

Like I'm not going to see a movie called Hitman that has Timothy Olyphant, big nickel-plated pistols, and Ave Maria.

They may as well have just deducted $6.50 from my bank account the minute they finished shooting. They wouldn't have found any money there, just a couple moths and the skeletons of bill-collectors, in fact to see the movie at all I had to rappel Indiana Jones-style into the theater and punch out several ushers, though that part was just for fun. Still, if I had money, they would have been given it by me because they did such a fine job with their trailer.

Olyphant belongs to an order of international assassins so good at their jobs they can run around with barcodes tattooed on the backs of their shaved heads without being noticed. He's contracted to kill the Russian president and then Olga Kurylenko -- the single witness to the hit.

Only someone takes a shot at Olyphant when he goes to rub Kurylenko out, who, it turns out, didn't see anything at all. With the news reporting the Russian president survived the attack, Olyphant begins to suspect a setup. On the run from Russian security and Dougray Scott, an Interpol agent who's been tracking him down for three years, Olyphant has to unravel the conspiracy while keeping not just himself but Kurylenko alive.

What's the word for Hitman's dialogue? Crummy? It certainly wasn't atrocious -- it didn't make me feel sad to be alive -- but it sure made everyone who had to speak it look like a jerk. That's kind of sad, because movies like this, they don't need to read like Faulkner's greatest masterpiece. They just need to convey enough information to get us to the next gun fight, and if they're really ambitious, maybe throw in a tough-guy quip here or there.

"Ripped off" would be the word (or two) for its action, which was competent but felt alternately like cutting-room scenes from The Matrix or one of the Bourne movies, which is a little strange when one of those movies is the world's smoothest choreography and the other looks like the camera was dropped down a well mid-shot.

Yet for all this basic no-funness (and there are other unpleasant elements, too, like a score that never shuts up), Hitman never really sucks out loud. Maybe it has to do with the subplot about Olyphant being the world's most professional killer but the world's most incompetent lover. The ultra-pro struggling to find his humanity is nothing new, and I wouldn't quite call it subtle here, yet it is underplayed sometimes (as much as a video-game adaptation underplays anything) in a way that gives Olyphant's icy assassin a few hints of depth.

Which makes it extra too bad everything he and Kurylenko say to each other is shallow as a plate. Come on, writers! Believe you me, I appreciate the gratuitous nudity, but at the many moments when her clothes are on and thus my brain is too, it would be cool if she talked more like a person and less like a feelings-spewing, sympathy-generating machine.

Oh well, you can't have everything.

Hitman actually has a lot of potential -- the plot's solid, Olyphant's a good actor with an interesting character, it's got its own little universe with an organization of super-studs to mess around with -- it just doesn't have the ability to execute those things well or the personality to make them distinct. It hits that dreaded middle ground where it's neither good enough nor terrible enough to need to be seen.

Grade: C-