THE BIG HIT
Although his best-known work is a Jackie Chan vehicle, Hong Kong director
Che-Kirk Wong appeared to be an odd choice to direct a quirky action
comedy; after all, the Chan film in question, 1993's Crime Story, is known
among the Jackie faithful as his "serious" action film, devoid of any
humor. With The Big Hit, Wong shows he can do a capable action/humor
juggling job. If only he had a funnier script to work with.
The Big Hit gets off to a very promising start, with a terrific extended
action sequence set in a hotel. Much of the hyper-choreographed mayhem
owes a large debt to John Woo (who, perhaps not so coincidentally, serves
as an executive producer), but the stylishly staged shootouts work; how can
one not get a rise when hitman Melvin Smiley (Mark Wahlberg), hanging out
of a high window by only his feet, somehow manages to lift himself up and
blow away the baddies? Writer Ben Ramsey also promises something different
from most action films, introducing a colorful menagerie of eccentric
characters, such as the no-nonsense, if mild-mannered, Melvin's goofy
contract-killing cohorts Cisco (Lou Diamond Phillips), Crunch (Bokeem
Woodbine), and Vince (Antonio Sabato Jr.).
But once Ramsey sets up the main scenario, in which the foursome kidnap
and hold for ransom one Keiko Nishi (China Chow), daughter of a rich
Japanese businessman--a job not assigned to them by their tough boss, Paris
(Avery Brooks)--things come a bit undone. Those potentially interesting
characters never develop into more than single-trait cardboard cutouts.
Crunch is a compulsive masturbator, constantly doing hand-strengthening
exercises; Vince is a pretty boy lothario, or at least that's what the
press notes say, for he never really exhibits such behavior aside from
hitting on some women in the early-going. Disappearing as quickly and
conspicuously as Crunch and Vince after making a flashy, brash splash is
Melvin's sassy mistress Chantel, played by a completely wasted Lela Rochon.
It goes without saying that the success of an action comedy depends on its
batting average in both action and comedy. While Wong shows he can combine
the two elements fairly fluidly, The Big Hit is hampered too many weak
comic attempts. Ramsey has fun tweaking conventions of kidnapping
thrillers (the ransom message, call tracing), action films (a car that
barely hangs on after being run off of a high road), and movies in general
(sappy Oscar-bait scenes). But his more straightforward humor falls flat.
A running gag involving Melvin's delinquent account at the local video
store grows old long before its admittedly interesting payoff. Least
successful is the subplot involving the "German-Irish" Melvin's engagement
to the Jewish Pam (Christina Applegate). The would-be humorous
head-butting that occurs when her parents (Lainie Kazan and Elliott Gould)
come to visit is tired; the mother, a strict Jew, objects to the pairing on
religious grounds; the recovering-alkie father doesn't care, just as long
as he gets a drink. In fact, all attempts at a romantic angle don't work.
Wahlberg is paired with three different leading ladies, and he hasn't the
slightest bit of chemistry with any of them, least of all Chow, with whom
he became involved offscreen. They do have one transcendent moment
together: a hilarious "erotic" chicken-stuffing scene, but the scene works
because of the tongue-in-cheek, "sensual" underscore and suggestive sight
gag, not because of any palpable onscreen sparks between Wahlberg and Chow.
The media audience with whom I saw The Big Hit gave the film a spirited
reception, and its easy-going melding of slam-bang action and oddball humor
could appeal to regular moviegoing audiences. But as far as I am
concerned, the sporadically effective The Big Hit is not a big miss, but it
doesn't exactly live up to its title, either.
RATING: *** (out of *****)<
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