Monday, January 6, 2014

The Big Hit

The Big Hit (1998) is like that scene in Predator where Arnold Schwarzenegger and his team open fire on the jungle with all the guns they have: occasionally, it hits something, but mostly it's a lot of misses covered up by sound and fury signifying nothing.

Hitman Melvin Smiley (Mark Wahlberg) needs $25,000 to pay for his girlfriend Chantel's (Lela Rochon) debts, oblivious that she's cheating on him. So, Melvin joins a kidnapping scheme with his friend Cisco (Lou Diamond Phillips) in which they abduct Keiko (China Chow), the daughter of Japanese businessman Jiro Nishi (Sab Shimono). But Melvin and Cisco don't know that: a) Nishi has just lost all his money making the most expensive movie ever made starring himself (title, "Taste the Golden Spray") and b) Keiko is the goddaughter of their boss Paris (Avery Brooks). When the kidnapping occurs, Jiro turns to Paris, who promptly orders Cisco to root out the kidnappers. All this and Melvin has to deal with his fiancé Pam (Christina Applegate) and her visiting parents (Elliot Gould and Lainie Kazan). There's also a subplot in which fellow hitman Crunch (Bokeem Woodbine) has just discovered the joys of masturbation and another involving a video store clerk (Danny Smith) constantly calling Melvin to remind to return his copy of King Kong Lives.

Got all that? Directed by Che-Kirk Wong, The Big Hit could be charitably described as busy, but chaotic and messy would be more accurate. There are so many characters running around doing so many different things that the movie doesn't so much progress or unfold as much as it careens from one thing to another. Rooms are shot up, people are killed, frantic phone calls are made, and Melvin does his best to keep a tied-up Keiko out of sight from his future in-laws.

The Big Hit tries its damnedest to be a dark, madcap comedy filled with wacky characters characters and situations that spiral out of their control quickly, but I must confess I didn't laugh very much. Most of the characters, especially Cisco and the video store clerk, really got on my nerves, and I just wanted them to shut up. In addition, the situations they get into just aren't that funny either, usually falling into the realm of predictable and obvious. Sometimes, there's a detail here or there I found amusing, such as Melvin complaining about blood dripping out of a bag of body parts as if it was milk leaking out of his groceries, but instead of escalating a scene to even more outrageous levels, the movie mostly gives us set-ups for jokes that don't really go anywhere.

The main problem I had with The Big Hit is I was transparently aware all the time I was watching actors be wacky and silly for the sake of it and not in any way that got me absorbed into it. The movie's like the class clown who's always hopping around screaming "Look at me being funny!" If he does it nonstop, it's just becomes tiring. There's no believable reality presented in the film to make me think any order is violated. The movie forgets one of the most basic rules of comedy: people who are trying to be funny are rarely as funny as people who try to be serious and fail. Look at Airplane, Leslie Neilson and Robert Stack give stone-faced, serious performances in the middle of such silliness, and it's hysterical. The Big Hit has folks overacting like crazy to show how funny they are, and the result is not funny.

One element I did like was the relationship between Melvin and Keiko and how it develops from kidnapper and hostage to kindred spirits to romance. Sure, the Stockholm romance has been done before, but these scenes stand out because they don't feel so frantic and in-your-face. Melvin doesn't like the idea of anyone not liking him (an amusing idea for a hitman to have that the movie could have explored more), and Keiko, long ignored by her father, is an engaging sass.

Maybe with fewer characters, fewer plot lines, and more focus, The Big Hit could have been free to explore its better ideas and take the comedy to the next level, instead of wallowing in realm of shrill mugging and contrived misunderstandings. Instead, to reference Shakespeare again, it's a poor player that struts and frets its hour on the stage and then is heard no more.

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