Based on a video-game series built around a nameless super-assassin known only as Agent 47 from the last two numbers of the barcode tattooed on his shaved skull — this violent action is stylish but painfully formulaic, even by the undemanding standards of video-game narratives.
Raised from childhood by a quasi-religious brotherhood that trains killers for hire, Agent 47 (Timothy Olyphant) works for an internationally connected agency that pairs wealthy customers with elite assassins. Fresh off the grotesque murder of an African warlord, Agent 47 is dispatched to Russia to murder moderate presidential candidate Mikhail Belicoff (Ulrich Thomsen), with directions to forget about surreptitiousness and make the killing a bloody public spectacle. 47 accommodates the client like the consummate professional he is, assassinating Belicoff in front of a crowd of St. Petersburg supporters and media, only to be told later that he left a witness who can identify him Belicoff's punk sex slave, Nika (Olga Kurylenko). Agent 47 doesn't leave witnesses and has never botched a hit, yet later that day Belicoff is all over the news, having somehow survived a flawless head shot. Agent 47 realizes he's being framed and goes on the run, with the angry, half-dressed Nika in tow. Meanwhile, Interpol agent Mike Whittier (Dougray Scott), who's been tracking the elusive Agent 47 for years despite his bosses' skepticism that such a man exists, inserts himself into the Belicoff investigation over the protests of senior Russian agent Yuri Marklov (Robert Knepper).
For all its conspiracies within conspiracies, HITMAN is a mechanical series of violent set-pieces decorated with underdressed hotties. It's handsome but astonishingly dull and weirdly sexless, despite the aforementioned underdressed girls and frequent discussion of Nika's undergarments or lack thereof. Knepper and Henry Ian Cusick, who plays Belicoff's bad, bad, brother, a trafficker in drugs, guns and sex slaves, have a fine old time tearing up the scenery, but the normally charismatic Olyphant can't make Agent 47 more than a chicly dressed cipher. The great void at the film's center leaves ample time to wonder about matters that don't bear close examination, like why the agency's stealthy uber-mercenaries have beacon-like bald heads and barcode tattoos that fairly scream "notice me!" or why a shadow agency would carefully label operatives' lethal accoutrements guns, poison, swords, wiretapping devices et al with their super-cool corporate logo. Such absurdities don't matter when the game play is the thing. But they do torpedo movies, where it does matter that stories at least appear to make sense. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh