Review: 'Hit Man' is one of the best movies of the year

Oooowee, this is one scorchingly sexy thriller.

Oooowee, "Hit Man" is one scorchingly sexy thriller.

It's also more, a lot more. "Hit Man," now in theaters on its way to Netflix on June 7, is powered by a new leading man who really brings the heat. His name is Glen Powell. You may have seen him hitting the action pedal with Tom Cruise in "Top Gun: Maverick" and then going all swoony-dreamy romantic opposite Sydney Sweeney in "Anyone but You."

But you ain't seen nothing yet. "Hit Man," written by Powell and director Richard Linklater, paints a deceptively comic face on darkness while sealing the deal on Powell as a Paul Newman/Steve McQueen for the 21st century. Such dazzle should not be taken lightly.

Hollywood historians may try to pinpoint the precise moment when Powell became a movie star. It's here, about 15 minutes into "Hit Man," when Powell— playing a nerdy New Orleans philosophy professor—finds his inner cool by taking on bad-boy identities as an undercover hit man for the New Orleans PD. Hire him and the cuffs go on pronto.

Justice triumphs, but for this divorced, stay-at-home, bird-watching, cat laddie who drives a Honda Civic that doesn't know from vroom, it's the rush of playing a pretend badass that becomes an addiction. He's hooked. You will be, too.

Cheekily billed as a "somewhat true story," the film is based on Gary Johnson, a teacher who really did work undercover. But don't get hung up on facts since "Hit Man" frequently flies off into fantasy. What stays real is Gary teaching his students about the interplay between the id (primal urges) and the superego (morality) and the efforts of the ego to hold them in balance.

Talk about relatable. Gary lets his id flag fly, taking on wigs, fake teeth and accents as, among other fake IDs, a red-headed Brit killer, a stogie-chewing Russian thug and, most importantly as Ron whose swagger grows beyond what a leather jacket and a thousand dollar haircut can provide. "OK, Daniel Day," raves a cop (Retta) who is mightily impressed by his acting.

His students are shocked. "When did our teacher get hot?" When indeed. I'd say when Gary begins to identify more with Ron than himself. It's Ron who attracts Madison, played by the electrifying Adria Arjona, who hires him to off her abusive husband (Evan Holtzman).

He talks her out of it, which leads to ethical quicksand that only intensifies their intimacy from bedroom to bathtub, resulting in the steamiest R-rated whoopie since the days of basic instincts and fatal attractions. Recently, "Challengers" and "Love Lies Bleeding" suggested that carnality wasn't dead on screen. "Hit Man" really makes the case for the return of cinema sizzle.

Powell and Arjona, who costarred with boyfriend Jason Momoa in "Sweet Girl," are fire as screen lovers, bringing a hot-damn urgency even to the moments when Gary and Madison allow the truth to invade their love bubble. Who's to blame when her dirtbag husband turns up dead?

Credit the Texas-born Linklater, the world class talent behind such gems as "Slacker," "Dazed and Confused," "School of Rock," "Boyhood" and the sublime trilogy of "Before Sunrise, "Before Sunset" and "Before Midnight." The laughs pop so vividly that at first you might miss the grace notes and the amplitude of Linklater's vision.

Sex on screen hasn't been this fun in years. But you always get a sense of something deeper and dangerous percolating beneath the livewire banter that can't quite disguise the secrets kept by two characters who can't keep their hands off each other.

What is "Hit Man," really? A case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde meet the Nutty Professor? A radical romance that hinges on Freud, Jung and Nietzsche? Or a chance for Powell to prove he's a powerhouse actor able to nail every nuance in a juicy, challenging role?

How about all of the above? Without resorting to spoilers, I'd say go in without preconceptions for one of the best movies of the year, the kind you'll keep running back in your head with a smile that won't quit. How do you resist that? Two words: You don't.