Netflix's Fake Assassin Movie, Hit Man, Is So Enjoyable It's Almost Criminal

Fake murder, real fun.


If you have fringe political views and some stranger shows up to offer you help committing an act of terrorism or political violence, think twice. As Reason's C.J. Ciaramella wrote in 2022, that helpful stranger is probably working with the feds.

Similarly, if you're out to have a rival or a lover murdered but don't want to do it yourself, you should probably be suspicious of anyone you meet who claims to be a professional hit man. The murder-for-hire contractor across the diner booth from you is probably an undercover cop. Hit men, at least as portrayed in movies and airport thrillers, don't really exist.

Yet people holding murderous grudges want to believe that they do. And that's how Louisiana college professor Gary Johnson—no, not that one—became a fake hit man and the subject of a surprisingly charming new movie from director Richard Linklater.

Hit Man stars Glen Powell as Johnson, a nebbish professor of psychology and philosophy who began helping local police catch wannabe killers, first by setting up cameras and microphones and then by assuming the role of fake hit man himself.

Or, to be more precise, roles. Johnson leans into the acting aspect of the job, donning wigs and costumes to accentuate his various personas. Some are downright silly, but the point is that his theatrical accouterments allowed him to try becoming a different person. And that, in turn, helped him change himself—and become the person someone else needed, or wanted, him to be.

Hit Man, which was cowritten by Powell and Linklater, punctuates the film with brief sequences in which Johnson lectures his students about the fragility of the self, the way that most people think they know who they are but really don't. The self isn't as fixed as people think it is: Rather, it's always a kind of role, a character, a costume that people put on to be themselves.

That becomes relevant to Johnson when, in the guise of a suave contract killer named Ron, he meets a young woman named Madison who wants her abusive husband done in. Johnson, as Ron, advises her to drop it and just leave the bastard, which she does. But when they eventually bump into each other again, it becomes clear that she has feelings for him. Those feelings, however, are for Ron, not Gary.

Madison and Ron fall desperately in lust, and possibly even love. But their fling is complicated by Gary's ongoing deception, and by the reemergence of Madison's husband.

The title and setup make Hit Man sound like a twisty thriller, but it's best as a gently quirky romantic comedy, with the ordinarily hapless Gary playing the ultra-cool Ron and learning to be a different version of himself in the process.

Hit Man occasionally nods to the ethics of police stings and setups; it's peppered with brief scenes in which Gary not only meets up with wannabe murder mavens, but later encounters them in court, where he testifies to their guilt against lawyerly protests that they were entrapped rather than caught. But for the most part, the film is content to push those questions aside in favor of fake hit man rom-com hijinks.

Powell, the breakout costar of Top Gun: Maverick, is endlessly charming, and manages to ground the movie's sillier turns in something relatable. Despite the pretense of psychological complexity, it's not a particularly deep movie, but it's a sly, romantic, and pleasantly undemanding summer streaming confection. Indeed, it's so effortlessly enjoyable, it almost feels like a setup.