The Spool / Movies
Hit Man hits most of the right notes
Richard Linklater directs Glen Powell in a star-making performance.
SimilarA History of Violence (2005), Amélie (2001), Annie Hall (1977), Arlington Road (1999), Boys Don't Cry (1999) Face/Off (1997), Human Nature (2001), Léon: The Professional (1994), Life Is Beautiful (1997), Lucky Number Slevin (2006), Mr. & Mrs. Smith (2005), The Apartment (1960), The Simpsons Movie (2007), Things to Do in Denver When You're Dead (1995), Wild at Heart (1990),
MPAA RatingR
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I have to admit, I wasn’t really on board with Hollywood’s attempt to make Glen Powell the Next Big Thing. I thought there was something a little generic and forgettable about him, like he had been grown in a laboratory that specialized in manufacturing blandly handsome blonde actors. 

But I’m not too proud to admit that I was wrong, at least as far as Hit Man is concerned. Powell may at first blush be little more than a chiseled jaw delivery device, but as it turns out he has a lot of charm to spare, and a witty sense of humor, if the script he co-wrote with director Richard Linklater is any indication. It’s a fun, spicy comedy thriller for adults that might just give the struggling film industry a bit of juice, but of course in this era of truly baffling decision-making by those who earn far more money than they deserve for such things, it’s only getting a limited theatrical release before going direct to Netflix.

Like Linklater’s criminally underrated Bernie, Hit Man is loosely based on a Texas Monthly article, this time about Gary Johnson, a Houston-area philosophy teacher who worked a side gig with the local police, passing himself off as a killer-for-hire in dozens of sting operations. Powell plays Johnson, an unassuming dork who lives quietly with two cats and considers a day of birdwatching to be the peak of excitement.

Gary has a part-time job with the New Orleans police department, assisting them in electronics and surveillance. When their usual undercover hitman (Austin Amelio) is suspended after being caught on film assaulting a group of teenagers, Gary is quickly recruited to replace him, despite the fact that he’s a civilian. The legalities of that are questionable at best. but on the other hand we don’t come to a hitman comedy for realism.

Unsurprisingly (otherwise there wouldn’t be much of a movie), Gary shows a knack for undercover work. For each operation (and they seem to be constant, evidently New Orleans is rife with murder-for-hire plots) he creates a new persona, relying on a collection of disguises, costumes, and accents. This sequence feels a bit self-indulgent, like an audition reel illustrating Powell’s “not just a pretty face” versatility, but it’s also undeniably entertaining, particularly when he does an eerily good Christian Bale as Patrick Bateman impersonation for one potential customer.

Hit Man (Netflix)
Hit Man (Netflix)

Even though he gets dragged through the mud by various defense attorneys, and Jasper, the cop he’s at least temporarily replaced, looks at him with naked hatred, when he’s not working undercover Gary is able to go about his normal life without issue. That is, until he meets Maddy (Adria Arjona), who wants him to murder her abusive husband. Or rather, she wants “Ron,” the suave, confident persona he puts on for her, to do it. Their first meeting is more like a first date, and “Ron” is so taken with Maddy that he talks her out of going through hiring a hitman, the exact opposite of what he’s supposed to be doing.

“Ron” is everything the shy, nerdy Gary would like to be, but he’s also reckless, as evidenced when he continues seeing Maddy, who’s not just unbothered by the fact that he’s a hitman (or so she thinks), she seems kind of turned on by it. However, when Maddy’s husband still winds up dead anyway, Gary finds himself tangled up in a mess that might make him wish he had just stayed home and played with his cats instead.

While it’s predominantly a witty comedy, Hit Man also makes for some interesting post-viewing conversation. Most of the other personas Gary puts on for his various sting operations are broad stereotypes – a redneck, a terse German, Patrick Bateman – but “Ron” is just a hot, charming guy, who flirts like it’s his second nature and always knows the exact right thing to say. One wonders why Gary hasn’t been that guy the whole time (minus the fake hitman part), and, indeed, certain aspects of “Ron” gradually creep into Gary’s everyday life. It’s just a somewhat more extreme version of how many of us put on different personas for different people, while our “real” selves are somewhere in the middle.

At just under two hours long Hit Man only slightly overstays its welcome, and a lot of it coasts on the sizzling chemistry between Powell and Arjona. They’re not just a physically attractive couple, they’re believable together, a rare thing in an era where filmmakers seem reluctant to show adults doing adult things, other than punching or kicking each other. For a movie about a hitman, there’s surprisingly little violence, and it leans far more on the side of a comedy than a thriller, with the high point being a wildly clever moment involving the use of the iPhone Notes app, which I shan’t give away. 

Hit Man isn’t reinventing the wheel, but it’s a brisk, smart film with likable actors, and it’s working with a budget that isn’t bigger than the gross national income of several Eastern European countries combined. It seems only logical that studios would maybe switch to making six of these at the cost of one Madame Web for a little while, but considering that there’s currently a third attempt at The Fantastic Four in progress, sadly that doesn’t seem likely.

Hit Man premieres on Netflix June 7th.

Hit Man Trailer:

SimilarA History of Violence (2005), Amélie (2001), Annie Hall (1977), Arlington Road (1999), Boys Don't Cry (1999) Face/Off (1997), Human Nature (2001), Léon: The Professional (1994), Life Is Beautiful (1997), Lucky Number Slevin (2006), Mr. & Mrs. Smith (2005), The Apartment (1960), The Simpsons Movie (2007), Things to Do in Denver When You're Dead (1995), Wild at Heart (1990),
MPAA RatingR