‘Hit Man’ shoots and scores (mostly) with Glen Powell as a fake assassin

‘Hit Man’ shoots and scores (mostly) with Glen Powell as a fake assassin
  • PublishedJune 8, 2024

Breezy and slight, “Hit Man” provides a somewhat unlikely showcase for Glen Powell (fresh off the rom-com hit “Anyone But You”), teaming up with acclaimed director Richard Linklater to take an intriguing true story before embellishing it, Hollywood-style, beyond recognition. Working nicely on those terms, the movie feels perfectly suited to Netflix, more fit for the “you might like” button than trying to make a box-office killing.

Serving as producer and co-writer (with Linklater) in addition to starring, Powell plays Gary Johnson, a New Orleans philosophy and psychology professor who made extra cash serving as tech support for a police sting operation designed to catch people trying to hire, unbeknownst to them, a cop masquerading as a contract killer. Forced by circumstances to fill in, Johnson discovered a genuine talent for acting, playing various versions of the “hit man” to reel in his marks.

Based on a Texas Monthly article, “Hit Man” departs from Johnson’s already pretty remarkable story around there, when he meets an alluring woman (Adria Arjona) seeking his services because of what she characterizes as an abusive husband. Instead of springing the trap and sending her to jail, Johnson enters into a relationship with her, a perilous proposition that yields an escalating assortment of headaches, as well as some quite clever twists and turns.

After “Top Gun: Maverick” and the less-effective “Devotion,” with the disaster sequel “Twisters” to come, Powell understandably welcomed this opportunity to work with Linklater, who – known for character-driven studies like “Boyhood” – has of late dabbled in documentaries (HBO’s “God Save Texas”) and animation (his autobiographical Netflix semi-fantasy “Apollo 10 ½: A Space Age Childhood”).

Although he nicely conveys Johnson’s sort-of Hitchcockian dilemma, Powell, with his leading-man qualities, isn’t a completely natural fit as the sort of professorial type that would buttress this imposter role, which doesn’t make the movie less fun, just a bit more improbable until the story really kicks into gear.

Arjona, by contrast, feels almost like a throwback to old film noir as this alluring woman of mystery, appearing drawn to the dangerous aspects of Gary’s alter ego while potentially harboring secrets of her own. In that sense, “Hit Man” is as much a quirky romance as a thriller, juggling its mix of whimsy and suspense deftly enough, especially down the closing stretch.

Near the outset, Johnson notes in voiceover that he was “minding my own business when my life took the oddest of turns.”

As career choices go, though, the turns in “Hit Man” make plenty of sense, beginning with Powell indulging in a smallish but generally satisfying cinematic detour, where he doesn’t need to knock ‘em dead on his familiar glide path to blockbuster-style stardom.


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