The filmmakers of the 2007 action thriller "Hitman" could always rationalize away the movie's shortcomings by saying it was based on a video game, after all. Practically all popular games wind up on the big screen at one time or another, and none of them have become particularly noteworthy successes. You say there's no plot, no character development, no credibility, no logical sense? Hey, it's only a video game.
What's more, we've seen a plethora of movies about hitmen--hired killers--in the last dozen years or so, with Luc Besson's "Leon, the Professional" (1994) among the best of the breed. Just don't expect anything in "Hitman" like the personality interaction, the sensitivity, the acting, or the spirit of "The Professional." This "Hitman" is mostly a trite, soulless concoction made strictly to satisfy the fans of the game. That said, "Hitman" is also a slickly made affair, with excellent production values, a good video-game feel, and a nice sense of pace. So it's actually a better film than I was expecting, even if it doesn't do much beyond the ordinary.
At one point Vin Diesel was set to play Agent 47, the story's lead character, but it didn't happen. Maybe he read the script. Instead, the part went to Timothy Olyphant, whom you may remember as the villain in "Live Free or Die Hard." I suppose one shaved head looks the same as another, although I see at IMDb that Diesel stuck around as one of the movie's executive producers.
Anyway, as I say, Olyphant plays Agent 47, one of many men that a supersecret organization known only as "The Organization" genetically engineered, enhanced, and trained from birth as professional killers, hired out to the world's governments (and, presumably, to anyone else who can afford them). These killer agents are so featureless, the Organization doesn't even give them names, only numbers. Therefore, Olyphant's character is plain, colorless, and nameless. Now, this might work in a video game, but on screen it just makes Agent 47 so distant we don't care a whit about him. Still and all, like the robotic Terminator in "T2" and "T3," from time to time we do see some glimmers of emotion in 47's otherwise expressionless demeanor; just not enough for us to want to see him again in a sequel.
Agent 47's newest assignment is to assassinate the President of Russia, Mikhail Belicoff (Ulrich Thomsen), and to do it very publicly. When he's accomplished the deed, his superiors tell him there is a witness to the shooting who can identify him, a young woman, Nika Boronina (Olga Kurylenko), that he must also eliminate. But when he finds Nika to kill her, he discovers one of his own people trying to kill him. He realizes he's been set up. So 47's job in the story is to find out who in his own outfit double-crossed him, with all the while an Interpol inspector, Mike Whittier (Dougray Scott), following him every inch of the way.
"Hitman" involves a great deal of chasing around, shooting, and setting off of explosive devices. The only trace of humanity or sensitivity comes from the girl, Nika, who pretty much saves the day insofar as offering any distinctive personality is concerned. Otherwise, both the movie and its characters are sterile in the extreme, with coincidences, exaggerations, absurdities, and clichés abounding in every frame. For instance, wouldn't you think that hitmen in black suits, red ties, completely bald pates, and bar codes tattooed on the back of their heads might--just might--look the tiniest bit suspicious? Not in this movie world.
And what the film lacks most of all is possibly what the video game lacks, too: a sense of humor. "Hitman" takes itself much too seriously. Compare, for example, another film released the same year, the aforementioned "Live Free or Die Hard," which was just as exaggerated, just as preposterous, and just as clichéd as "Hitman" yet managed to be a lot more entertaining, thanks to actors and filmmakers who saw the absurdities in the situations and exploited them, not for outright comic effect but for the pure fun of it.
As I say, "Hitman" moves along at a healthy clip, offers fans of the video game all the thrills they could want, and at ninety-four minutes never overstays its welcome. I just wish it offered a little more creativity and provided us with a character who was a little more colorful and memorable. I guess you take what you can get.
The version of the film I watched on Blu-ray is Unrated, meaning it contains an excess of violence, blood, brutality, nudity, and profanity. Emphasis on the violence.
This is one of those movies whose video quality is a little hard to judge because you don't know exactly what the director's intent was in choosing the look and color palette he did. The movie's aspect ratio is 2.35:1, and the Blu-ray video engineers used an MPEG4/AVC encode for the 1080 transfer. Now, what we see is an oddly dull, waxen appearance to the film and its characters, with hues intentionally toned down, probably to emulate the look of the video game. Sometimes the picture purposely smooths over details, and there is a smokey veil over many of the scenes, especially indoor shots. Dark areas of the screen are a tad murky, while a fine film grain actually aids the texture of the images. I'd say the transfer probably does justice to the original print, it's certainly clean enough and free of digital artifacts, but that doesn't necessarily qualify it as the best high-definition picture in the world.
The disc's 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio leaves little one could desire. Except perhaps a greater use of the surrounds, given all the shooting and explosions that go on. Still, the audio does its job with commendable ease. The dynamic range and impact are impressive. Bass is deep and solid, evident from the opening titles' organ pedals and going on to thump impressively thereafter. In fact, things in the bass department might even be a bit too much of a good thing at times. Midrange is quite transparent. So, no complaints here.
Disc one of this two-disc BD set contains a series of documentaries and featurettes. First up is "In the Crosshairs," a twenty-four-minute, behind-the-scenes, making-of segment with the usual filmmakers' comments about how they made the film and how good it is. Second is "Digital Hits," eleven minutes, focusing on the video game and its translation to the screen. Third is "Instruments of Destruction," fourteen minutes on the weaponry in the movie. Fourth is "Settling the Score," five minutes on the musical track. Fifth is a series of five deleted scenes, including a dreadful alternate ending, totaling about eight minutes. And sixth is a gag reel, five minutes.
Things wind down with twenty-four scene selections but no chapter insert; several trailers at start-up only for other Fox releases; a theatrical trailer for "Hitman"; English and Spanish spoken languages; and English, French, Spanish, Chinese, and Korean subtitles.
Disc two contains what Fox describe as "a digital copy of 'Hitman' for portable media players." It allows you to transfer a copy of the movie to a PC, Mac, iPod, iPhone, or iTunes.
In its defense, "Hitman" isn't anywhere near as bad as 2006's "Smokin' Aces," a bloody awful mess about multiple hitmen that went with style over coherence, or 2002's "Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever," which was also about chasing and shooting and things blowing up but was too dumb to recognize as a motion picture. So, at least "Hitman" sticks to the point and provides its fans with what they're after. The fact that it remains rather routine and tiresome, a paint-by-the-numbers affair, probably doesn't matter.