The criminal anarchy is hilarious when a foursome of full-time hit men looking to score extra cash kidnap the boss’ goddaughter. And when beleaguered wise guy Mel is set up to take the fall, underworld antics and domestic absurdities collide for a working weekend no one will soon forget. Mark Wahlberg, Lou Diamond Phillips, Bokeem Woodbine, and Antonio Sabato, Jr. star in this explosive comedy.
The Big Hit 8.5
eyelights: the phenomenal cast. the edgy humour. the sharp script. the tight direction. the plot. the motion picture score.
eyesores: the car chase in the woods.
“Well ain’t that a bitch… All I wanted to do was to sail my boat, man, you know? Navigate by the stars, see dolphins race alongside, you know, maybe even kill a few of them.”
I thought very little of ‘The Big Hit’ when it hit the shelf of the video store I worked at back in the day. It looked like a cheap action film, and it starred Marky Mark without his Funky Bunch (not that their inclusion would have been a selling point for me). I immediately assumed that it would be a throwaway like so many home video offerings.
But, one night, a couple of teenagers walked in and raved about it. I rolled my eyes at first, but they insisted that it was better than you’d imagine. Since one of them was a semi-regular that I had some respect for, I decided to give it a chance; his boundless enthusiasm couldn’t be all wrong. I took it home the moment it was available.
And I was blown away.
I don’t remember what me expectations were when I sat down to watch it, but I know that ‘The Big Hit’ exceeded them by a long shot. It had action that was exciting, well-choreographed and fresh. It was filled with zingers and gags, irony and absurdity; I couldn’t stop laughing. And the cast was actually better than I could ever have hoped.
It wasn’t long before I bought it on DVD and showed it to my friends – who also had a blast. I’ve since watched this film countless times. For a while, it was my go-to film late at night, when I wanted a good time. Or even when I needed something to fall asleep to – because, although, it has action in it, it’s a dialogue-driven piece.
And the dialogues (as are the situations) are hilarious.
‘The Big Hit’ is the story of a meek hitman who is taken advantage of by his two girlfriends and all his work buddies, because he can’t stand the idea that they -or anyone- would stop liking him. He’s so abused and stressed that he drinks Maalox like it’s water. And yet, he’s the most effective, cold-blooded killer in his crew.
One day, one of his colleagues talks him into doing a kidnapping gig. At first reticent to do a side job, as their boss would disapprove, his financial woes push him into it. Soon he finds himself with a kidnap victim on his hands, trapped in the middle of familial and professional disputes that he feels powerless to resolve.
Mark Wahlberg is surprisingly good in here as Melvin Smiley. His awkward, soft-spoken affect works so well here, because it makes him sound weak, whipped. And yet he has the physique to prove that he can be a hitman; the guy is ripped. He’s absolutely superb here, mixing weakness and confidence ably. It’s one of the only movies I can stand him in.
The whole cast is terrific, actually, playing up the comedy just right, making their characters cartoons, but not so much that they feel extreme or unrealistic. The four guys playing the hitmen were all excellent at doing action and mixing it up with comedy.
- Lou Diamond Phillips really bites into his character, Cisco, Smiley’s backstabbing colleague; he truly seems to relish every moment. I’ve never seen him better, playing him arrogant, vicious, ambitious… and stupid. You totally believe that this guy is a jerk. Plus he physically fits the part, handling all of the action sequences with verve.
- Bokeem Woodbine isn’t exactly stellar, but his character, Crunch, is meant to be silly, so he doesn’t need to be entirely credible. I love his character, a hitman who’s just discovered masturbation and is totally obsessed with it, trying to convert his friends to it. He’s always exercising his hands and buying lotion for his “after hours” activities.
- Avery Brooks (yes, of ‘Deep Space Nine’ fame) is terrific as their boss, Paris: he’s cool, scary, authoritative. He’s not meant to be funny, obviously, but he does inject a few moments of humour via his delivery, by inflecting a certain way. It’s just a secondary part, but Avery leaves his mark nonetheless. I can’t think of anyone better for it.
- Christina Applegate is terrific as the SoCal princess who lives with Smiley and can’t admit to her parents that they are engaged to be married. She plays up the sexiness and vacuousness effectively, traipsing about like the cliché that she is meant to be.
- Lela Rochon is funny because of her character’s expectations of Smiley: as his mistress, she expects him to pay her bills. She’s a heartless golddigger, cheating on him on the side and not caring that he kills for a living – so long as he gives her cash.
- China Chow plays Keiko, the kidnap victim. She’s not a funny character, but she’s adorable, and she gets a few moments anyway – particularly when she tries to escape from Smiley’s house while everyone’s home. The timing on this sequence is comedy gold; she, Wahlberg and Applegate must have had a blast.
Even the video store clerk who keeps harassing Smiley to return his tape of ‘King Kong Lives’ is perfect. Danny Smith plays him hyperbolic, making him annoying and arrogant. The kid allows himself to be a real dick because he’s at the other end of a phone line; he feels protected by the distance – much like the online trolls of today.
If only he knew.
‘The Big Hit’ is full of stereotypes and sends them up on purpose. It also likes to break many of our accepted social conventions by hooking up a Catholic with a Jew, showing men naked while the women never are, having a hot guy reveling in masturbation instead of intercourse, making the black ganglord classy, and poking fun at whiggas.
The writing is much more clever than you would expect for this sort of thing. And that’s probably why it appealed to me so much. For an action-comedy, it spent a lot of time on the dialogues and making the situations, the contexts, funny – as opposed to just giving characters one liners or having all sorts of gags. It’s well thought out.
It’s a slick-looking film, too. It was made on only 13 million dollars, but it was produced by John Woo (along with Wesley Snipes), who knows how to make action films on the cheap. He knows how to stretch a budget, so he was able to put it all on the screen. Sure, some of it still looks low budget, but given what they had to work with, it’s amazing.
Thankfully, they had a capable director in Che-Kirk Wong, who’s had plenty of experience doing Hong Kong action films. It’s full of exciting sequences: fight scenes (ex: the opening one, the one at Melvin’s), explosions (ex: the end of the opening fight, the video store one), car chases (ex: in the woods, the highway one with all the guys hanging from the van).
How is this guy not bigger than Guy Ritchie is beyond me. He knows how to put a movie together like it’s nobody’s business! Heck, how is this movie isn’t at least a cult favourite blows my mind; it’s so well put together. Even the music is awesome: Graeme Revell’s score, combined with the choice of songs, made for a perfect soundtrack.
My only real grievance, actually, rests with the car chase in the woods. It’s exciting, but there’s a discrepancy between the distance that Smiley and Keiko cover when his car goes over the cliff and the time that it takes for Cisco to get to them in his own car. It just doesn’t make sense. But, frankly, it’s not the end of the world in the big picture.
‘The Big Hit’ may not look like much; at first glance it looks like you’re everyday b-level actioner. But there’s more to it than that: it’s irreverent, cleverly-written, expertly put together and the cast is fantastic. It never set the box office ablaze and it’s largely forgotten, but there’s no reason for it to be overlooked. It’s big-time fun.
Date of viewing: March 14, 2014