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By Pete Vonder Haar | November 24, 2007

It’s more or less a lead pipe cinch these days that any moderately successful video game title will one day see new life on the big screen. Popularity outside the PS2 crowd isn’t even that stringent of a requirement, as cinematic versions of “Silent Hill” and “Doom” both recently gambled on the assumption that non-gamers would be curious enough to buy tickets. In hindsight, it may not seem all that great an idea (“Doom” made about a third of its budget back, domestically), but if Hollywood studios know one thing, it’s how to exploit an existing property with minimal effort.

The latest in the video game flick genre is “Hitman,” based on the eponymous Eidos title. “Deadwood’s” Timothy Olyphant plays Agent 47, an assassin trained from a very young age by a mysterious organization (which goes by the clever name of “The Organization”). The Organization’s assassins are all well-schooled in combat and tactics. They also all have UPC codes tattooed to the back of their head, the better to eliminate annoying price checks. 47’s latest job is the fragging of Russian President Mikhail Belicoff (Ulrich Thomsen). Unfortunately, things go awry when the assassination attempt fails, and others in the employ of the Organization are sent to dispatch Agent 47. There’s also dogged Interpol agent Mike Whittier (Dougray Scott, now more than ever regretting that he was unable to play Wolverine), who’s been dogging 47’s steps for three years.

Let’s start with the obvious: Olyphant just isn’t that intimidating an assassin. Think of some of cinema’s more memorable button men: Léon, Luca Brasi, Frank Nitti…that’s right, not a pretty boy in the bunch. His character in “Deadwood” – Seth Bullock – always seemed to be on the verge of violence, but that’s because he was a psychopath and had a butch moustache. Olyphant with a shorn head (The Organization likes ’em smooth) just doesn’t command the same presence. Sure, he glowers to some effect, and is obviously handy with small arms and melee weapons (at least as far as director Xavier Gens’ epileptic directing style allows us to see), but otherwise is about as menacing as one of the extras in “THX-1138.”

The Organization’s attempts to set up Agent 47 are needlessly convoluted, and I confess I stopped paying much attention about halfway through. More interesting to me was whether or not co-star Olga Kurylenko (playing Nika, Belicoff’s marked-for-death former sex slave) would ever get naked (she does) or whether Gens and screewnriter Skip “Swordfish” Woods would try to get these two kids together (they don’t). It seems none of the Organization’s agents have ever known the pleasure of a woman’s company, and 47 is more comfortable knocking Nika out than knocking her boots. That she even considers “repaying his kindness” is – I guess – supposed to show us how comparatively cruel Belicoff was to her. After all, Agent 47 only verbally abuses her, stuffs her in the trunk, and drugs her when she becomes unruly. It’d be offensive if the rest of the movie wasn’t equally ridiculous.

“Hitman” lurches from action sequence to action sequence with about as much coherence as, well, a video game. Suspension of disbelief is a must, but they make it hard. For example, after 47 tries to kill the President of one of the most powerful nations in the world and has Interpol, Russian police, and the Russian Secret Service all breathing down his neck, he tries to make his escape at the St. Petersburgh train station. Of course he succeeds, and why not? He’s just a bald guy with a freaking bar code on the back of his head. The only place that wouldn’t attract notice is Burning Man. Maybe. Or maybe I missed the part where the Organization held invisibility classes.

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