There should be a moratorium on writing “You and I are not so very different,” and its variants in all future screenplays. Screenwriters Skip Woods and Michael Finch didn’t get the memo when writing “Hitman: Agent 47,” treating their audience to that gem of a line as well as dozens of others that are uninspired or sound vaguely familiar if you’ve ever seen another movie.
Woods and Finch have a history with franchises, separately penning the scripts for “X-Men Origins: Wolverine,” “A Good Day to Die Hard” and “Predators” with Finch slated to tackle “Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters 2.” Even the last of those films, the sequel to the reviled “Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters,” likely has a better script than the final product here. “Hitman: Agent 47” boasts everything from flaws in logic to a flood of lines so terrible and unoriginal that they elicited giggles from a room full of critics at the press screening. These are people who see bad movies for a living, but they were still affected enough by the bad dialogue here that they couldn’t hold it in. As for intentional laughter, the film is humorless for most of its running time, until the final act when cracks are made only to completely miss their mark.
Based on the successful video game series, “Hitman: Agent 47” is a reboot of the 2007 film “Hitman,” which starred Timothy Olyphant in the title role. Here, “Homeland” star Rupert Friend plays Agent 47, a genetically engineered assassin without an identity beyond a barcode tattooed on his skull. He lacks fear, love and other emotions but makes up for it with heightened intelligence, strength and speed. He can also do a wardrobe change faster than Beyoncé.
Agent 47 is in pursuit of a mysterious woman hiding in Berlin, Katia Van Dees (Hannah Ware, TV’s “Betrayal”). Katia herself is searching for a man whose identity she doesn’t know, though she has created a “CSI”-worthy board to track him. Katia has also attracted the interest of John Smith (Zachary Quinto, “Star Trek Into Darkness”), who offers to save her from Agent 47. Unbeknownst to Katia, she is also a genetically engineered agent, and she may hold the key to creating more super soldiers like herself. Thomas Kretschmann costars as the head of a shadowy organization with the intent to create more agents, which otherwise is most notable for giving him a really cool desk.
The role of 47 was intended for Paul Walker before his 2013 death, and Friend is a poor substitute. The normally gifted actor feels horribly miscast here. Prior to co-starring on “Homeland,” he was known for period romances such as “Pride & Prejudice,” “Cherie” and “The Young Victoria,” and his role here is unsurprisingly more in line with the Showtime series, where he also plays an assassin. He can adequately meet the physical demands of the part and glides through the fight scenes with grace, but anything requiring dialogue shows how ill fit he is for the role. Part of the issue lies with the screenplay as well as the character’s general coldness, but whenever Friend spoke, I was nearly lulled to sleep, with only his inconsistent accent and loud explosions keeping me awake.
As Katia, Ware is all confusion and flashing eyes, interspersed with moments of intense concentration. Though her character is ostensibly German or possibly Russian, we’ll credit Katia’s excellent, genetically enhanced language skills with why she sounds so British (not just because Ware is). Any baddassery exhibited by Katia is sadly negated when she’s slung over 47’s shoulder — twice — and swims topless for no particular reason (other than the studio’s desire to include the shot in three separate versions of the U.S. trailer). Characters frequently inform us how gifted she is (theoretically better than 47 himself), but other than two scenes she does little to prove it beyond demonstrating her excellent hearing.
Quinto has fun as the enigmatic John Smith, but sadly none of that fun translates to the audience. Ciarán Hinds plays a small role in the latter half of the film, but it’s the worst use of the actor since “The Rite.” As 47’s handler, actress Angelababy feels like a CGI video game character, with all the depth and warmth that you’d expect from an exclusively digital creation.
For fans of the game, “Hitman: Agent 47” features a body count just as high as a standard first person shooter with a decent player on the controller. There’s plenty of blood and impressive killing methods that are far more creative than the rest of the film’s elements combined. Óttar Guðnason contributes some nice cinematography and usage of color, with the red of 47’s tie, his omnipresent Audi and his victims’ blood contrasting nicely with an otherwise neutral palette. But any of the film’s visual verve is canceled out by its general lack of originality, aping previous films both great and small. Some moments merely seem reminiscent of every action film ever, while others echo “The Matrix” and anything on Quentin Tarantino’s resume. It’s the first feature film for director Aleksander Bach, and he shares the blame with the pair of screenwriters. His creation is a muddled mess that is briefly lifted by some fun set pieces, but never is more impressive than a 108-minute Audi commercial. In fact, most car commercials seem as though they were made with more thought and attention to detail. [D]