Samuel L. Jackson is the hit man. Ryan Reynolds is the bodyguard. What more do you want me to say? These two sometime residents of different branches of the greater Marvel cosmos — Nick Fury and Deadpool, if you need reminding — join up, with ostentatious reluctance, on a European jaunt, leaving a trail of dead minions and flummoxed law enforcement officers from Manchester to The Hague. Their common nemesis is an Eastern European despot, a genocidal maniac with a scholarly mien and personal touch played, it seems almost redundant to point out, by Gary Oldman.
“The Hitman’s Bodyguard,” directed by Patrick Hughes (“The Expendables 3”) and written by Tom O’Connor, is not a good movie, but, in fairness, it doesn’t try to be. It occupies its genre niche — the exuberantly violent Euro-action movie-star-paycheck action comedy — without excessive cynicism or annoying pretension. The stars banter and bicker and wax sentimental about the badass women in their lives (Salma Hayek and Élodie Yung) until the time arrives for the next shootout or car chase or suite of explosions.
These range from tedious to wildly overblown to kind of fun. A hot pursuit in and along the canals of Amsterdam — with Mr. Jackson in a speedboat, Mr. Reynolds on a motorbike and the bad guys in black cars — brings a few jolts and gasps, even if the digital seams in the sequence peek out intermittently. A bout of tool-assisted hand-to-hand combat in a hardware store makes up in efficiency for what it lacks in originality. The final blowup and showdown destroy whatever sense of proportion the movie might have had, along with a lot of Dutch infrastructure.
Mr. Jackson plays Darius Kincaid, a fearsome contract killer cooperating with the authorities to free his wife (Ms. Hayek) from prison. Mr. Reynolds is Michael Bryce, a formerly “triple-A”-rated security specialist whose career and relationship (with Ms. Yung’s Interpol agent) went south after he lost a client. One of these fellows is an uptight, cautious, detail-oriented professional, while the other has a looser, more improvisational style. No points for guessing which is which, or for predicting who learns what from whom.
Darius, despite a résumé piled high with dead and maimed bodies, is more righteous avenger than sociopath. This, too, is no surprise. A least since “Pulp Fiction,” Mr. Jackson has made a specialty of playing murderers touched by a curious sense of moral grace. Mr. Reynolds, for his part, is comfortable and credible as a smart, suave young punk in need of a bit of schooling. Mr. Jackson lays claim to most of the good lines and the big scenes, but no one can complain about that.
Michael, however, does object to Darius’s reliance on a certain 12-letter expletive. “You ruined it,” he whines, supplying this otherwise blunt, none-too-clever movie with a morsel of meta-humor. Every movie fan knows that Mr. Jackson didn’t exactly invent that multifaceted word, but in its modern phraseology, he is nonetheless something of a mythic figure.