Originally created 04/24/98

'Big Hit' misses mark badly



Hollywood used to import movie stars from overseas. Then directors. Then they remade foreign films. Now the studios import entire genres. It's cheaper buying wholesale. The Big Hit is a Hong Kong action comedy, directed by Che-Kirk Wong (Crime Story), starring an American cast, and written by Ben Ramsey, an American who has apparently done as much time in the video stores as Quentin Tarantino.

The movie has the Hong Kong spirit right down to the deadpan dialogue. Sample:

Hit man: "If you stay with me you have to understand I'm a contract killer. I murder people for a living. Mostly bad people, but ..."

Girl he has kidnapped: "I'm cool with that."

The characters in these movies exist in a Twilight Zone where thousands of rounds of ammunition are fired, but no one ever gets shot unless the plot requires him to. The bullets have read the screenplay.

As the film opens, we meet four buddies working out in a health club. They're played by Mark Wahlberg (of Boogie Nights), Lou Diamond Phillips, Bokeem Woodbine and Antonio Sabato Jr. The guys are hunks with big muscles, which we can study during a locker-room scene.

Then they dress for work. They're all garbed as utility workers, with hard hats, toolboxes and wide leather belts holding wrenches and flashlights. As they saunter down the street to Graeme Revell's pumping sound track, they look like a downsized road company version of The Village People.

The plot: They attack the heavily defended high-rise stronghold of a rich pimp who has just purchased three new girls for $50,000 a head. They break in with guns blazing, and there's an extended action sequence ending with one of the heroes diving out of an upper floor on a bungee cord, just ahead of a shattering explosion. And so on.

They kidnap Keiko (China Chow), the daughter of a rich Japanese executive. Complications ensue, and she ends up in the hands, and later the car trunk, of the leader of the hit men, named Melvin Smiley (Mr. Wahlberg). This is most likely the first movie in which the hero hit man is named Melvin Smiley. But he does smile a lot, because his weakness is, "I can't stand the idea of people who don't like me." You would think a hit man would have a lot of people walking around not liking him, but not if he is a good enough shot.

Keiko falls in love with Melvin with astonishing rapidity. Sure, she tries to escape, but by the end she realizes her future lies with him. Will this complicate Melvin's life? Not any more than it already is.

He has a black mistress (Lela Rochon), who looks at a dismembered body in their bathtub and says, "He's kinda cute." And he has a Jewish fiancee (Christina Applegate), who is Jewish for the sole purpose of having two Jewish parents (Lainie Kazan and Elliott Gould) so they can appear in the middle of the movie like refugees from a Woody Allen picture and provide crudely stereotyped caricatures.

Remember those old serials in which someone got killed at the end of an installment, but at the beginning of the next installment you see him leap quickly to safety? That trick is played three times in this movie. Whenever anyone gets blown up real good, you wait serenely for the instant replay.

I guess you could laugh at this. You would have to be seriously alienated from normal human values and be nursing a deep-seated anger against movies that make you think even a little, but you could laugh.

The Big Hit

Rating: ã

Cast: Mark Wahlberg plays Melvin Smiley; Lou Diamond Phillips is Cisco; Christina Applegate is Pam Shulman; Avery Brooks is Paris; Bokeem Woodbine is Crunch; Antonio Sabato Jr. is Vince; China Chow is Keiko; Lela Rochon is Mistress; Lainie Kazan is Jeanne Shulman; and Elliott Gould is Morton Shulman

Director: Che-Kirk Wong

Running time: 93 minutes

MPAA rating: Classified: R (for violence, pervasive language and some sexuality)