Hit Man Review: Glen Powell Charms His Way Through Richard Linklater's Light Comedy

"What's better than this? Glen Powell wearing a bunch of goofy wigs?" That seems to be the question at the heart of "Hit Man," Richard Linklater's extremely breezy comedy about a guy who pretends to murder people. Based on a true story (sort of, kind of, not really), "Hit Man" coasts on Powell's good looks and charm. With his square jaw and affable manner, it's easy to like Powell, and watching his recent rise to stardom has been fun. Here, he gets his juiciest role to date, and the fact that Powell co-wrote the script with Linklater seems to suggest this is him seizing his big moment; his chance to show the world what he can do. "Not only am I a handsome leading man," Powell is ready to proclaim here, "but I can also do silly voices!" It's fun, it's charming, it's a little too slight for its own good. By the time the end credits rolled, I thought, "That was fun ... I guess?"

Powell plays painfully boring philosophy professor Gary Johnson (yes, even his name is boring). He's divorced, loves to watch birds, and is a self-proclaimed cat person. He also has a side-gig: doing electronics work for the New Orleans Police Department. Through a series of unlikely events, Gary gets roped into going undercover to pose as a hitman. As Gary reveals via voice-over narration, hitmen aren't real — they're just something you see in the movies. But most people don't know that, which means they can easily be fooled by law enforcement officers posing as contract killers to bust them.

Hit Man is like a perfectly average low calorie beer on a warm day

Wouldn't you know it, Gary is really good at posing as a hitman. He slips into the role effortlessly, which raises the question: who is Gary, really? "How well do you know yourself?" we hear Gary ask his students, and he may as well be asking the question to himself. The film doesn't really have much room to psychoanalyze Gary as a character, though. It's too light and fluffy for that. Indeed, there's a version of this movie that's much, much darker, especially considering events that happen near the end. Would that be a better movie? I don't know. But it probably wouldn't go down as smoothly as "Hit Man" does. This film is like a perfectly average low calorie beer on a warm day: you won't regret trying it, but it won't exactly knock your socks off.

Gary is so good at playing hitman that the cops keep using him, again and again (which seems kind of questionable, but sure, let's go along with it). He embraces the job, trying on different personas (and costumes) as he meets with one person after another (Gary works so often that the film seems to be suggesting that people in New Orleans are trying to hire hitmen practically every single day). Things are going smoothly for Garry until a beautiful woman named Maddy enters his life.

Adria Arjona is the real highlight of Hit Man

Funny, likable, and, yes, hot, Maddy stops Gary in his tracks, and when she tries to hire him to kill her manipulative, cruel husband, Gary — posing as a hitman named Ron — talks Maddy down and inspires her to take control of her life. As played by Adria Arjona ("6 Underground"), Maddy is the real secret to the film's success. As likable as Powell is, he's matched and then outdone by Arjona, who has a kind of old school movie star charm. It's very easy to understand why Gary is gaga over her.

Sure enough, the two fall into a hot and steamy relationship, but of course, there's a big problem: Maddy thinks Gary is Ron, the hitman. And Gary, for his part, uses his Ron persona to further the relationship. Whereas Gary would be uptight and nervous around Maddy, Ron is cool and confident. Here, the story shifts into what should be darker territory, but Linklater is so invested in keeping things fun and frothy that "Hit Man" begins to feel almost lopsided in its tone. Like Gary, the film doesn't seem to know itself.

Hit Man is pretty charming

Still, there's enough charm here to keep things moving. Powell and Arjona, very hot people, have very hot chemistry, and the film truly comes to life whenever they're sharing the screen and acting flirty. There's a late scene involving the two of them and the iPhone notes app that's so effortlessly cool and clever that it will convince you this is a better movie than it really is. I wanted more moments like that. What I got instead were a series of clumsy, brightly-lit scene (there's not a shadow to be found here) that don't quite land.

But "Hit Man" is light enough to be enjoyable, and Powell and Arjona really make things pop. However, "Hit Man" is also kind of forgettable, and often uninspired. The story is high concept, the execution is lacking. But hey, Glen Powell gets to wear a bunch of goofy wigs. That's fun, right?

/News Rating: 6 out of 10

"Hit Man" is now in select theaters. It arrives on Netflix on June 7, 2024.