Hit Man

While Hollywood studios focus on expensive IP-based franchises and cinematic universes, streaming services have stepped in to save the mid-budgeted original movie. Thank goodness for that. Once upon a time, Hit Man would have opened in thousands of theaters and been a summer blockbuster. It’s the sort of fun, ingeniously conceived entertainment that used to put butts in seats. The good news is you can watch it at home with a simple button push – and you should because it’s a total banger.

Based on a true story that it presumably takes considerable liberties with, the film focuses on Gary Johnson (Glen Powell), a mild-mannered college professor who moonlights by helping out the local police department. When one of their undercover agents is unable to make a scheduled meeting with a guy looking to pay for a murder, Gary is drafted into service. He does such a good job that the cops keep on using him in this capacity. To his surprise, he’s got an aptitude for posing as a hit man. Researching the people seeking to hire him beforehand, he crafts various personas to match their needs.

One of his potential clients is Maddy Masters (Adria Arjona), an abused wife looking to get rid of her violent husband. Rather than bust her, Gary starts up a relationship with her, even though she thinks he’s a suave professional contract killer and doesn’t know his real name.

On the surface, that sounds like the kind of action/rom-com dreck that would have starred Ashton Kutcher and Katherine Heigl fifteen years ago. Hit Man is so much better than that, though. Powell co-wrote the screenplay with director Richard Linklater, and despite the wacky Fletch-meets-John Wick premise, they never take the cheap road. The plot is filled with smart, authentic twists and turns that add suspense. Underlying that is a sincere theme about the milquetoast Gary finding his own identity by creating fake ones as part of the gig.

Glen Powell has been working for years, but he’s become a hot property in the wake of Top Gun: Maverick and Anyone But You. Hit Man solidifies his leading man bona fides. The actor is charming, funny, and intensely charismatic here. He’s got that old-school magnetism that the truest superstars have (Tom Cruise, Eddie Murphy, etc.). Powell hilariously sells every fake persona that Gary adopts without losing the core character he’s portraying. As for his chemistry with Arjona…well, they might just fog up your TV screen. The two make a dynamite duo.

Linklater paces the story beautifully, making sure each new wrinkle hits the right way. For example, when Gary and Maddy go on a date and run into Jasper (Austin Amelio), i.e. the agent he replaced, we know a significant problem has arisen. But later, that meeting gives birth to a second complication we can’t initially predict. Careful plotting of this sort, combined with witty dialogue, keeps the film moving at top speed for its two-hour running time.

Watching Hit Man, I kept thinking about how dumb it could have been in the wrong hands. Thankfully it was made with care, as well as an unwavering desire to entertain. It’s ultimately a testament to the magic of a solid concept, well-considered writing, and movie star chemistry.

out of four

Hit Man is rated R for language throughout, sexual content, and some violence. The running time is 1 hour and 55 minutes.

© 2024 Mike McGranaghan