The bald and the beautiful

“Hitman” introduces us to Agent 47, the lean, coldly efficient assassin whose capacity for carnage has been documented in a series of bestselling video games.

Raised by the shadowy Organization, which rounds up young outcasts and turns them into ruthless killers, he is the ultimate product of his upbringing — humorless, remorseless and lethally dedicated.

The Organization runs an international murder-for-hire racket, subsidized by the governments of the world and operated, it seems, by a fraternity of misanthropic barbers. Their charges are shaved and dehumanized, identifiable only by the bar codes tattooed at the base of their necks — and Agent 47 (Timothy Olyphant) is the deadliest of the lot. Like James Bond, he wields his handguns with fluid grace and pinpoint precision. Unlike 007, he’s bald, repressed and thoroughly antisocial.

Lately, he’s been off his game. Caught on camera during a mission in St. Petersburg, he arouses the suspicion of Interpol, leading to an artfully choreographed showdown that lays waste one of the city’s most picturesque hotels. He forges an unlikely bond with an exquisitely sculpted prostitute (Olga Kurylenko) who tries her best to separate him from his black suit and blood-red tie. (He resists, clumsily, though an awkward romance ensues.) And both the Organization and the Russian president want him dead.

But why sweat the details? “Hitman” is a messy adolescent fantasy that exists as a showcase for elaborately staged shootouts and the inventive camerawork of cinematographer Laurent Barès. Filmed on location in Cape Town, Istanbul, London and St. Petersburg, it is a purely visual pleasure, faithful to the spirit of the video game and supplementing the mayhem with barely enough plot to justify its move to the screen.

Stylish but substance-free, “Hitman” is a collage of vibrant, hyperviolent set-pieces in search of a story, and it’s far too silly to be taken seriously. Never explained, for instance, is why the Organization wants its hired guns to act, think and dress the same — an army of skinhead assassins in matching suits seems a bit conspicuous for an agency supposedly shrouded in secrecy.

CREDITS

Hitman

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Starring: Timothy Olyphant, Dougray Scott, Olga Kurylenko, Robert Knepper, Henry Ian Cusick

Written by Skip Woods

Directed by Xavier Gens

Rated R

Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes

artsentertainmentOther Arts

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