“The Hitman’s Bodyguard” contains no surprises whatsoever in terms of the story it tells or the characters it presents. It is literally “buddy-action-comedy-by-numbers”, following along the well-established plot trails of classics such as “48 Hours” and the “Lethal Weapon” films.

Yet the film still manages to entertain for most of its running time, thanks wholly to the affable energy of its A-List stars. They seem to know they’re carrying this brainless exercise in junk-food film making, and they throw themselves into it, delivering an experience you’ll almost feel guilty saying you enjoyed.

What’s it about?

Ryan Reynolds plays Michael Bryce, a meticulous and highly skilled bodyguard whose career has hit the skids. His reputation tarnished, he still takes whatever protection jobs come his way, hoping for a chance to regain his “AAA rating” by completing a detail for a high-profile client.

That opportunity comes via his ex-girlfriend, Interpol agent Amelia Roussel (Elodie Yung, Marvel’s “Daredevil”), who reaches out to him in desperation after her own protection assignment is ambushed in the streets of Coventry, England. Roussel is transporting a witness to the trial of a former Eastern European dictator (Gary Oldman); though she was present for the implosion of Bryce’s professional and personal fortunes, she knows she can trust him with her charge once her trust in her own agency is compromised.

Just one problem. Roussel’s witness is Darius Kincaid (Samuel L. Jackson), a world-renowned hitman with whom Bryce has had numerous life-threatening encounters. The two are literally at each other’s throats from the moment Bryce arrives on the scene, but once it becomes clear they’re stuck with each other, the guns get put away and the bickering commences.

What follows is a road trip filled with car chases, explosions, bullets flying and … well, a short jaunt in a bus with a group of Italian nuns. All in a day’s work for a AAA-rated “executive protection agent,” right?

Classic concept, lackluster execution

One look at the marketing for “The Hitman’s Bodyguard” and it’s easy to see why making the film might have looked like a good idea. A throwback-style R-rated action comedy teaming two megastar actors who built their careers firing off guns and one-liners must have looked on paper like an easy pay day for everyone involved.

It might have worked with more talented and experienced people working behind the camera. But director Patrick Hughes, whose only prior directing credit is the worst-in-the-series “Expendables 3”, delivers a film that looks and feels like he just told his stars, “Just do your thing when I say ‘Action!’”

The screenplay from Tom O’Connor, whose only prior screenwriting credit is the 2012 straight-to-DVD actioner “Fire with Fire” (Never heard of it? There’s a reason for that.) does the project no favors, either. Again, the plot is predictable almost to an unforgivable degree, and the best exchanges of dialogue and quips between Reynolds and Jackson sound improv’d, rather than scripted.

To be fair, the quick-cut editing used for most of the film’s fight scenes is serviceable, if not innovative. There’s no lack of bone-crunching, wince-inducing fisticuffs here, so viewers showing up just to see the stars kick butt as well as crack wise should get their due, at the very least.

Worth seeing?

There, however, is where you’ll find the guilty-pleasure appeal in “The Hitman’s Bodyguard.” Between Reynolds’s trademark irreverence and Jackson’s talent for punctuating lines with “m----- f-----,” you get a film experience that at very least is good for use in drinking games, i.e. “Every time someone says ‘m----- f-----‘, take a shot.”

Thus, the film might be best enjoyed at home as a rental, rather than on the big screen. And if you choose to go the drinking game route with it, a suggestion: don’t count the swearing by Salma Hayek in terms of cues to drink. Her screen time is limited, but it’s memorable just in the sheer volume of profanity she manages to deliver in two languages.

Including her f-bombs in the count might result in a trip to the ER.  

The Hitman’s Bodyguard

Starring Ryan Reynolds, Samuel L. Jackson, Gary Oldman, Salma Hayek, Elodie Yung, Joaquim de Almeida, Kirsty Mitchell, and Richard E. Grant. Directed by Patrick Hughes.
Running time: 118 minutes
Rated R for strong violence and language throughout.