Reviewing a movie like Hitman feels like the wrong way to evaluate it; a focus group of 13-year-olds would probably do the trick. I suspect, though, that at least some of the unofficial target audience (as the movie was rated “R” in theaters and comes to DVD “unrated”) for this film version of a popular videogame would find it dull, too. Without the brand-name, this would be a movie without an audience: too dry for teenagers, not sophisticated enough for anyone who has ever seen an espionage movie better than Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever.
With the brand, though, Hitman is elevated to the status of cash-in. Apparently lovable videogame character Agent 47 (Timothy Olyphant) is an assassin for a top-secret organization which, as many other critics have already remarked, is not so secret that it doesn’t employ at least 47 men with identically shaved and tattooed heads to blow things up as noisily as possible. If 47 is indeed the “ghostly” presence described by his pursuers, his actual killings are like those chains dragged around by Jacob Marley in A Christmas Carol.
We see, often in slow-motion, that Agent 47 is a ruthlessly efficient worker, so like most top-drawer assassins, he is eventually betrayed by his own employers and forced to go rogue. I’m not positive that, throughout the history of stealth assassins, the double-cross-your-best-guy technique has ever worked, but top-secret organizations refuse to waver. Maybe Hitman intends this as a commentary on US foreign policy, although it seems more doubtful when 47 rarely leaves Europe.
None of the silliness would matter if Hitman could deliver on its meager terms; instead, it finds surprising ways to disappoint. The lead casting of the excellent Olyphant, for example, turns out to be a miscalculation — or, more accurately, incapable of balancing the miscalculation that is Agent 47’s pale non-character. If the movie could’ve harnessed the energy and danger Olyphant showed in the far less literally explosive Go or The Girl Next Door, it might’ve been a lot of fun; instead, he plays it flat and dour, true to the dimensions of the character’s origin (the energized version of Olyphant would actually be perfect for the lead in a film version of the DC comic book Hitman — no relation to the game).
Hitman is the type of movie you see in the hands of blind-buying dudes at Best Buy on a Tuesday, but it’s actually a lousy movie to watch at home, regardless of your sweet tech specs. Though not bad-looking, the dry patches between the action sequences (themselves no great shakes) settle onto a TV set with narcotizing comfiness; without the unrated carnage, Hitman could be a TV movie from 1996 as easily as a flashy theatrical release from 2007.
Even confirmed fans may not be particularly enticed once they get the DVD open. It includes a bundle of deleted and alternate scenes — mostly short and often indistinguishable from the versions that made it into the movie, save for an alternate ending notable less for its nigh-nonsensical bleakness than its unfinished state, allowing for a neat glimpse into what elements of the movie were green-screened, CGI’d, and otherwise computer-polished.
For more detailed making-of information, the disc offers several featurettes examining various aspects of the production, as well as “In the Crosshairs”, a half-hour overview of the filmmaking process. The filmmakers in “Crosshairs” are almost perverse in their insistence that the screenplay, by Skip Woods, provides a strong and compelling story. In fact, it confuses plot with story, bodies with characters, and the inexplicable presence of samurai swords with awesomeness. That focus group of teenagers probably couldn’t do much worse.