“Hitman” is a Eurotrashy vidgame knockoff that misses its target by a mile. Numbingly unthrilling as it lurches from one violent encounter to another, the pic’s dark roots in an electronic, non-dramatic medium are plain to see, and unsuspecting gamers lured to theaters will soon wish they were back home participating in the action themselves. Theatrical playoff will be so quick that the DVD could serve as a stocking stuffer.
Most cinematically arresting minutes of the film, which shows the stylistic influence of the Luc Besson-affiliated co-producing shingle EuroCorp, are the gauzily ethereal opening credits, as boys are programmed to become assassins by what looks like a combo of the Roman Catholic Church and organized crime, all to the accompaniment of “Ave Maria.”
Offshoot in question of this unholy alliance is Agent 47 (Timothy Olyphant), an unerring killing machine who obeys instructions announced to him, “Mission: Impossible”-style, via a computer of uncertain origin.
In this instance, our protag is sent to Russia to assassinate the head of state, Belicoff (Ulrich Thomsen), which he appears to do, only to have the matter confused by the existence of presidential doubles. The spectacular public hit naturally arouses the interest of the local intelligence org FSB, the CIA and Interpol, with the latter having dispatched no-nonsense agent Mike Whittier (Dougray Scott) to reel in the elusive culprit.
Anyone who brushes too close to Agent 47 seems to wind up on the wrong end of one of his many weapons, with the exception of punky Russian hooker and presidential g.f. Nika (Olga Kurylenko), whose mere presence and periodic come-ons seem to get slightly under 47’s well-shaved and barcoded scalp. Nika’s numerous comings and goings make little dramatic sense in the script by Skip Woods (“Swordfish”), although little else does either.
French helmer Xavier Gens, whose previous feature was the grungy torture-porn fest item “Frontiere(s),” positively swills in the moldy, drippy, bloodstained Russian ambiance conjured up on Bulgarian locations. But he shows no ability to develop a narrative line or even tension within a scene, an egregious failing in that lives are constantly at stake. Action sequences, particularly one in which 47 alternately takes on four assailants with guns, swords and martial-arts smarts, are often incoherently staged and feature familiar sped-up, herky-jerky cutting mannerisms.
Olyphant has good hair, so it’s a shame he must do without it here as a man designed to be an automaton. He’s also an actor capable of portraying subtle ambiguities and thought, which suggests he ought to branch out to play something other than baddies, as he also did in “Live Free or Die Hard.” Presence here of Vin Diesel as an exec producer tips off that he at one time eyed this as a starring vehicle.
Kurylenko has a saucy, somewhat Anna Karina-ish appeal once her character softens into friskiness and vulnerability. Extensive second-unit work extends the locations to South Africa, Turkey, Russian and the U.K.