[Screen It]

(2007) (Timothy Olyphant, Dougray Scott) (R)

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Action: A highly trained hitman tries to figure out what went wrong when his latest seemingly killed target ends up not so dead after all.
Agent 47 (TIMOTHY OLYPHANT) is a professional assassin who's been trained since he was a boy to be the best at his profession. Working for a company called The Agency, he receives his assignments via computer, and is so proficient that Interpol agent Mike Whittier (DOUGRAY SCOTT) and his partner Jenkins (MICHAEL OFFEI) feel an urgency to find, capture and stop him.

The apparent assassination of Russian President Mikhail Belicoff (ULRICH THOMSEN) leads them to St. Petersburg, but separately they and Agent 47 are shocked to see Belicoff alive and well despite all too visibly being shot in the head earlier. Things get more complicated for the hitman when he's sent to take out Nika Boronina (OLGA KURYLENKO), a supposed witness of him at the shooting.

But when she doesn't show any recognition of him, and then a sniper tries to shoot him, Agent 47 goes on the run, determined to figure out what's going on. As Mike and Jenkins run into resistance from Russian special agent Yuri Marklov (ROBERT KNEPPER), Agent 47 abducts Nika -- the President's slave girlfriend -- and then goes to see Mikhail's drug and gun dealer brother, Udre (HENRY IAN CUSICK), in the belief that one of them might be able to give him some information.

With the body counting rising and the Interpol agents hot on his trail, Agent 47 uses every trick in his professional book to get to the bottom of this conspiracy, all while avoiding those who want to capture or kill him.

OUR TAKE: 4 out of 10
Being someone who likes his hair cropped quite short, I don't get the male preoccupation with and fear of going bald (I'd fully partake if not for my wife as well as the need to shave yet another large part of my head every day). I know, it's the whole losing one's masculinity thing, but if people stopped and really considered the famously bald, they might give that look a second thought.

From the old guard (Yul Brynner and Telly Savalas) to current chrome domes such as Bruce Willis, Patrick Stewart, Ving Rhames, Steve "Stone Cold" Austin, and, of course, Michael Jordan, bald men do come off as attractive and virile people. Which is why they're such iconic figures and part of the reason why many of them are cast in movies.

Then there are the full-bodied hair types who shave it all when the script calls for it or just for the resultant striking effect. The latest such clean shaven participant is Timothy Olyphant, probably best known for his role on HBO's "Deadwood" as well as the crazed porn producer in "The Girl Next Door." While I don't know the details, I imagine his chance to star as the titular rogue assassin in "Hitman" was probably contingent on him agreeing to do the bald thing since, after all, the character upon which it's based is also smooth as a baby's bottom up top.

Then again, having a bald hitman might not be the smartest move since such an easily noticeable appearance on a young man might stand out in a crowd when blending in is usually an asset if not an outright requirement of the job. Of course, having a large, supermarket style bar code at the base of one's skull probably doesn't help matters either, but considering the film is based on the popular video game of the same name, I guess common sense and subtlety are secondary notions at best.

Which might also explain director Xavier's Gen's seemingly incessant need to label most every locale that shows up in the film, not just with the city and related country, but with both also being repeated with each subsequent return. Thus, if anything, the game-boys who flock to this film will at least learn that London's in this place called England, just as St. Petersburg can be found in Russia.

Yet, I digress, as such films -- that I prefer to label with the generic "It is what it is" -- aren't about geography lessons, or even political ones (despite one of the targets being the President of Russia as concocted by screenwriter Skip Woods).

Instead, they're about shoot 'em action, and in that regard, the pic delivers in spades. While punches and kicks are also present, hails of bullets, along with spent shells, fleshy targets, and the spurting, splattering and general spilling of blood are the true stars.

Certainly as much development is afforded them as is given to the stock characters ranging from Olyphant's highly efficient killer to the determined agent after him (Dougray Scott), the leggy but troubled woman who ends up tagging along (Olga Kurylenko), and the ever elusive target (Ulrich Thomsen). Simply put (and notwithstanding the lead actor's bald head making him look somewhat like Billy Zane previously doing the same thing), the personas on display aren't terribly interesting, let alone captivating or engaging.

Accordingly, one just sits and watches what transpires. Yet, the fact that we've seen most, if not all of this sort of material before clearly negates its chances of standing out. And that's especially true when one considers other assassin-based characters that have preceded this one (particularly Javier Bardem of recent in "No Country For Old Men") and/or films featuring highly trained killers whose handlers have turned on them.

One need only look at the "Bourne Identity" pics or even a hybrid such as "Mr. and Mrs. Smith" to see how good to terrific such genre entries can be, and thus how mundane this one is in comparison.

While plenty of mayhem is present and many bullets are fired, their cinematic equivalents don't always hit their intended targets with as much force as necessary to make it stand out from the crowd, even with a striking, hairless man pulling the trigger. "Hitman" rates as a 4 out of 10.

Reviewed November 19, 2007 / Posted November 21, 2007

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