The Movie Waffler New Release Review - HIT MAN | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review - HIT MAN

Hit Man review
A fake hitman falls for a woman wishing to hire his services.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Richard Linklater

Starring: Glen Powell, Adria Arjona, Austin Amelio, Retta, Sanjay Rao, Evan Holtzman

Hit Man poster

Entire rain forests have been levelled to accommodate the volumes written on what makes cinema work, but sometimes it boils down to something as simple as having two attractive and charismatic movie stars make googly eyes at one another. Rising stars Glen Powell and Adria Arjona are as attractive and charismatic as they come, and they spend much of Richard Linklater's comedic thriller Hit Man making googly eyes at one another. Bathing in such magnetism is enough to keep us amused for most of the film, until a messy final act that exposes just how heavily the movie has relied on the distracting charm of its two leads.

Like Linklater's Jack Black vehicle Bernie, Hit Man is inspired by a true crime story, that of Gary Johnson, a college professor who moonlit as a fake hitman for the police. His second job saw him meet with people looking to off their spouses, colleagues, mothers-in-law etc and record their intent with a hidden microphone. Linklater opens his film with a disclaimer that makes it clear very little of what you're about to see really happened, but his protagonist is named Gary Johnson nonetheless and pops up in the obligatory closing credits images of the real Gary.

Hit Man review

Gary is played by Powell as a nerdy bird-watching philosophy teacher who bores the pants off the kids in his college class, where he delivers thematically on-the-nose lectures about the nature of the self. At first he's simply manning the recording equipment for the New Orleans police while an undercover cop, Jasper (Austin Amelio), plays the fake hitman role. But when Jasper is suspended for an act of police brutality, Gary finds himself thrust into the part of the paid assassin. Initially nervous, as soon as he sits down across a diner table from a potential "client," he discovers the role of a cold and calculated professional killer fits him like a glove. Impressing his superiors in the NOPD, Gary takes on the job permanently, much to the annoyance of the returning Jasper, and develops an array of fake personas, each one tailored to the specific client he's trying to incriminate.

When he's tasked with meeting Madison (Arjona), a beautiful woman who wants to do away with her abusive husband, Gary opts for the role of "Ron", a suave hitman who likes to wear black and sports designer stubble. Taking pity on Madison, Gary/Ron advises her to take the money she was willing to use to fund her husband's execution and build a new life for herself. He even gives her his phone number and tells her to contact him if she ever needs help. Remarkably, his law enforcement bosses seem fine with this wildly unprofessional act.

Hit Man review

When Madison contacts the man she believes to be killer-for-hire Ron, Gary maintains the facade and the pair begin a steamy relationship. Rather than being terrified of Ron, Madison seems thoroughly excited by the idea of dating someone who kills for a living. She even agrees to Ron's terms of only seeing him when he says so, and never meeting at his home. This arrangement works a treat at first, but things begin to get complicated when Jasper discovers what Gary has been up to and Madison's husband comes back into the picture.

There's one glaring issue with Hit Man, and that's how Powell so easily convinces as the suave and charismatic Ron, but always comes across as though he's putting on a role whenever he appears as Gary. For the part to work, it should be the other way around. Gary's glasses, bad haircut and terrible shirts come off as a disguise rather than the cool wardrobe sported by Ron, which naturally fits Powell's toned Hollywood physique. The film tries to make it clear, through a combination of Gary's voiceover narration and the lectures he delivers to his students, that Ron might indeed be Gary's true persona, but the switch from Gary to Ron is too immediate for us to buy into this idea. We really need to see Gary gradually ease into the role of Ron rather than the instant transformation we get here, which is as immediate as Clark Kent changing into his tights and cape in a phone box. It's a bit like if Bill Murray was able to seduce Andie MacDowell on the first attempt in Groundhog Day without the need for any of his failed rehearsals.

Hit Man review

So much of the film's running time is devoted to Ron rather than Gary that it's easy to forget the latter is playing the former. As a result, much of the movie plays like a comedy about a hitman dating a client, rather than a college professor playing a hitman in order to keep dating her. There's very little sense that Ron/Gary is in danger of getting caught out. In order to create the required tension, the movie needs more moments of Ron fumbling the ball and regressing into Gary in Madison's presence. Even when Jasper cottons on to Gary's ruse, it takes too long for the crooked cop's true intentions to be made clear.

Underneath the breezy rom-com trappings lies a dark undercurrent that the movie never grapples with, possibly because it's not entirely aware of its presence. The central idea of a man pretending to be someone else to get laid might have innocently fuelled comedies in previous eras, but it's too loaded a concept now for a movie to play it as lightly as it's rendered here. Gary is always portrayed as a "good guy" despite engaging in what amounts to a form of sexual assault over a prolonged period of time. His Nietzschean philosophy often sounds like the sort of "embracing your inner Alpha Male" tripe spouted by the likes of Jordan Peterson and Andrew Tate. If the movie was willing to acknowledge this we might have a much blacker and likely more interesting comedy to wrestle with. In the climax the narrative takes a surprisingly dark shift but again it's played so breezily that it suggests the movie doesn't grasp its own darkness. Hit Man thinks Gary is akin to the sort of nice-guy-who-just-needs-a-break roles John Cusack played in the '80s, when he's actually much closer to the manipulative misogynist embodied by Aaron Eckhart in Neil Labute's In the Company of Men.

Hit Man
 is on Netflix from June 7th.

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