“Hit Man” is an Endearing if Anonymous Romantic Comedy

It seems like Hollywood has stopped making grown-up movies. With the glut of animated films, big-budget epics, children’s comedies, and superhero fare, it seems this mid-budget art form is a dying breed. Movies where a couple of stars engage in moderately salacious problems while discussing the mundanities of adulthood used to be par for the course, but without a bankable hook or established IP, it’s getting increasingly difficult to get the green light. Enter Richard Linklater’s Hit Man. With a hook that essentially rests on Glen Powell’s charm, this enjoyable action/comedy/romance may have the power to revive a dwindling subgenre. 

Gary Johnson (Powell) is a boring college professor without much going on. Despite looking like Glen Powell, he spends most of his days alone and eats dinner on a tiny kitchen fold-out with only his cats for company. His students openly mock his mundanity and the only interesting piece of his job is a contracting gig running sound for police sting operations. When a last minute substitution thrusts Gary into the spotlight, he discovers a talent for portraying assassins. Leaning into the drama, Gary begins a thriving career as a hitman impersonator and locks up a string of would-be murderers. He’s reveling in newfound success when an attractive woman solicits his help. Instantly smitten, Gary encourages Madison (Adria Arjona) to abandon her deadly plan then gives her his number “just in case.” The two begin a clandestine affair, but vow to keep things strictly physical. Of course, the real world eventually intervenes as Madison’s scandalous past rears its head. Now Gary must fight to preserve this budding romance while holding onto the new and exciting life he’s worked hard to build. 

In addition to serving as star and producer, Powell penned the script alongside Linklater and Skip Hollandsworth. Having designed the role to highlight his particular skills, the film soars on the back of this charming performance. After the initial sting operation goes particularly well, Gary begins tailoring each hitman to the prospective client and indulges in a disparate array of stereotypical personas. Each new face is an exciting revelation and Powell is clearly having a ball with the outsized caricatures. However, the Ron identity he uses to woo Madison feels like a slightly exaggerated version of himself with differences too subtle to produce noticeable changes. Essentially untucking his shirt and taking off his glasses is all the nerd-adjacent teacher needs to discover a new zest for life. He’s supposedly becoming someone else, but these tiny tweaks feel like little more than the glow up we all adopt in a new relationship.

Aside from a revolving cast of hitman facades, this relationship is the heart of the film. Arjona and Powell have undeniable chemistry and Linklater does not skimp on creative sex scenes. Most of the other drama feels frankly contrived, but we’re so invested in this sweet couple that we’re willing to excuse plot holes and confounding motives. More frustrating is a refusal to engage with the dark side of Madison’s actions or why she would be drawn to a calculated killer. But Linklater isn’t particularly interested in her inner life and presents this fascinating woman as an endearing tool to aid Gary’s self-actualization. The final act takes an interesting twist, but the shocking conclusion flies in the face of everything we’ve learned about this likable man. . 

Billed as an action comedy, the film is essentially bloodless. Though it trades in organized crime, we get little more than descriptions of brutal dismemberments and barely see any real action. But Powell is able to hold our attention through what is essentially a romantic comedy tinged with darkness. While essentially anonymous and potentially forgettable, Hit Man ultimately succeeds by basking in the glow of its handsome star. 

Jenn Adams is a writer, podcaster, and film critic from Nashville, TN. Find her social media nonsense @jennferatu.

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