'Hitman' Sticks to Its Guns

Friday, November 23, 2007

"Hitman" is the best movie derived from a violent computer game we've ever seen.

You can take or leave that kind of qualified high-five, but, for us, it was a thoroughly entertaining experience. Think of bargain basement "James Bond" amped up into TV den-sittin', mouse-clickin' overdrive. But with human actors.

The plot is hardly worth recounting in anything but the barest essentials. On a routine assignment to assassinate a rapidly rising political moderate in St. Petersburg, Agent 47 (Timothy Olyphant) finds himself caught in a double cross. And being chased by Interpol agent Mike (Dougray Scott). Naturally, Agent 47 is going to have to shoot and kill his way to the truth and safety.

Nothing particularly original there. But as an almost abstract killing machine, Agent 47 is a model of lethal efficiency. And he's cool-looking, too: head shaven, back of his skull tattooed with an awesome bar code. Not only does he pump bullets, he's eminently gymnastic. And with the enormous physical license of a computer-game-based character, he can do practically anything, from aerial gymnastics out of hotel windows to point-blank target shooting. He's wicked with swords, too.

Yes, yes, yes, violence is a terrible thing -- in the real world. But here, it's surprisingly fluid and watchable, thanks to director Xavier Gens's dynamic screen choreography, adroit editing and cool camera angles, from above, below and sideways. And believe it or not, Olyphant (Seth Bullock in the brilliant HBO series "Deadwood") delivers an almost sensitive performance. It's intriguing to watch him come to terms with the real emotion of L-O-V-E as he teams up with a leggy babe called Nika (Olga Kurylenko) who's caught up in this crazy mess.

-- Desson Thomson

Hitman R, 100 minutes Contains violence, nudity and profanity. Area theaters.

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