The Big Hit
Screenplay : Ben Ramsey
MPAA Rating : R
Year of Release : 1998
Stars : Mark Wahlberg (Melvin Smiley), Lou Diamond Phillips (Cisco), Christina Applegate (Pam Schulman), Avery Brooks (Paris), Bokeem Woodbine (Crunch), Lela Rochon (Chantel), China Chow (Keiko Nishi), Sab Shimono (Jiro Nishi), Robin Dunne (Gump)
There are scenes in "The Big Hit" that are so awful, they simply defy description. The movie is infected with the same kind of blunderheaded idiocy and misplaced confidence that made "Last Action Hero" (1993) such a chore to sit through.
Presumably, "The Big Hit" is an action-comedy, a difficult but not impossible genre to pull off. Movies of this sort require a fine balance and careful tone, and the comedy is usually meant to work as catharsis for the violence. "Lethal Weapon 2" (1989) is a perfect example of an action thriller that was also very, very funny. Unfortunately, in "The Big Hit," it seems that comedy is the main motive, and the violence is only intended to punctuate the laughs. Unfortunately, there are no laughs.
The movie resembles some of the goofy, throwaway ridiculousness of early Jackie Chan films, but it doesn't benefit from Chan's incredible stunts and goofy, charismatic presence. Instead, we are left with a lot of digital effects and Mark Wahlberg, who must have considered himself invincible after his critically-acclaimed performance in last year's "Boogie Nights." However, if he wants to maintain a decent career, he had better start selecting his projects more carefully -- movies like this are a sure-fire recipe for a long career in the straight-to-video market.
Wahlberg plays Melvin Smiley, an amiable guy who also happens to be a professional hitman (see "Grosse Pointe Blank" for the same character, much better developed). The movie wants us to think, "Gee how clever and ironic -- a guy who can kill without any moral implications, and yet he can't stand for anyone not to like him." The fact is, Melvin is so desperate to keep people from not liking him, that he puts up with both an obnoxious fiancee (Christina Applegate, with a horrendous New York accent) and an abusive girlfriend (Lela Rochon ) who is only using him for his money. His constant bending over backwards to please people makes him a complete patsy at best, and a thoroughly unbelievable character at worst.
Melvin is employed exclusively by a crime boss named Paris (Avery Brooks) as part of a team of hitmen, which also includes Cisco (Lou Diamond Phillips) and Crunch (Bokeem Woodbine). One day, Melvin agrees to do some moonlighting with Cisco by kidnapping the teenage daughter of a rich Japanese mogul named Jiro Nishi (Sab Shimono) for a million dollar ransom.
However, not only has Jiro Nishi lost all his money producing a big Hollywood movie (inside joke, get it?), but his kidnapped daughter, Keiko (China Chow), also happens to be Paris' goddaughter. So, when Paris finds out she's been kidnapped, he takes it personally and becomes determined to find out who did it. Not knowing the Cisco is actually behind the whole scheme, Paris puts him in charge of rooting out the kidnapper. Of course Cisco blames the whole thing on poor, innocent Melvin.
Along the way, there are several obligatory gunfights, explosions, and car chases, plus a literal cliffhanger inspired by "Jurassic Park," and a completely unconvincing romance between Melvin and Keiko (who looks like she's barely pushing fifteen). What the movie passes off as humor resorts to thoroughly unfunny jokes about overweight Jewish mothers, hara-kiri, drinking problems, leaking body bags, and a running gag about how Crunch has recently discovered the pleasures of masturbation, and now spends all his time doing hand exercises. Not to mention the pimply video store clerk who is always calling Melvin and screeching about how he needs to return his copy of "King Kong Lives," which is two weeks overdue.
This mess of a movie was helmed by Che-Kirk Wong, the latest Hong Kong director imported by John Woo ("Face/Off"), who also served as executive producer. Woo needs to stop acting as a conduit for other directors, and start making more of his own films. Wong, who directed such films as "Rock'n'Roll Cop" back in Hong Kong, is completely tone deaf when it comes to comedy. Maybe jokes about vexatious video clerks and vomiting on other people are funny across the ocean, but they're not here, at least in the manner Wong handles them.
Many of the problems can be traced back to the script, which was penned by obvious freshman writer Ben Ramsey. In addition to his vague characterizations and uninspired action sequences, Ramsey's script assaults the audience with his attempts to copy the vulgar, poetic rhythms of Tarantino or Mamet-style dialogue. What he comes out with is just a lot of annoying blather, most of which spews from the lips of Lou Diamond Phillips (whose favorite phrase is "It's all love") and Robin Dunne, who plays Cisco's stuttering, black-wannabe assistant. The irritation factor of Phillips and Dunne combined is almost off the scale, which can pretty much describe the film as a whole.
©1998 James Kendrick