The Big Hit

Nashville Scene

DIRECTED BY: Kirk Wong

REVIEWED: 05-03-98

In the opening minutes of The Big Hit, a young, down-on-his-luck hit man, played by Mark Wahlberg, goes through his daily workout of curls and shadow-boxing; he puts in a warrior's training to prepare for yet another contract killing. As I watched him practice his kung-fu chops, I thought, "We need to have another war, and soon." Anything to populate our screens with a different kind of protagonist than the buff murder junkies who have captured the imaginations of young filmmakers.

The filmmakers in question here are director Kirk Wong (a Hong Kong action-cinema vet) and screenwriter Ben Ramsey (whose only previous credits are as an actor in Caged Heat 3000). The film they have imagined is clever in concept, galling in execution. Wahlberg and Lou Diamond Phillips costar as the leaders of a team of assassins in the employ of a callous mob boss (Avery Brooks). Desperate for money to support his two golddigging girlfriends (Lela Rochon and Christina Applegate), Wahlberg signs on to help with an unauthorized kidnapping. Unfortunately, the kidnapee (the charming China Chow) turns out to be the godfather's goddaughter, and before Wahlberg and his partners know it, the wrecking crew has been retained to off the culprits (i.e. them).

Wahlberg and Phillips are both engaging, and the film has some funny moments, but unlike the similarly themed Grosse Pointe Blank, The Big Hit doesn't have the layer of satire that makes the black humor palatable. It doesn't seem to be about anything, save its own style. Plus, the film's tone jumps all over the scale. Ramsey's script intercuts wacky video-store clerks with sudden, cold-blooded murder. Meanwhile, Wong's action sequences are like abstract art installations--a man breakdances on the floor while firing his weapon, there's an explosion, another man bungee-jumps ahead of the fireball, and the audience scratches its collective head.

Blame for The Big Hit belongs mostly to Quentin Tarantino, I suppose--both for his infusion of pulpy kitsch into the mainstream, and for his successful integration of action clichs and mundanity. But as we've learned countless times over the past three years, there's only one Tarantino. He set the main caper in Jackie Brown in the food court of a shopping mall, and he achieved the desired effect of making us see both criminals and Things Remembered stores in a new light. In The Big Hit, Kirk Wong shows Mark Wahlberg trying to keep a pack of dogs away from a dismembered corpse while simultaneously dodging his shrill Jewish in-laws-to-be, but the whole scene seems merely contrived.

Some critics blame the general rage for crime on Tarantino, but his gabby gangsters were preceded in the popular culture by, among other things, the comic books of Frank Miller, who reimagined Daredevil and Batman into realms where heroes and villains were united in their bloodlust. Frequently, his ruthless bad guys were cooler than his superheroes. Scratch a budding screenwriter today, and you'll find somebody who spent eighth-grade social studies doodling futuristic, comics-inspired arsenals.

Over the closing credits, the soundtrack blares Buck-o-Nine's cover of "I'm the Man"--Joe Jackson's song about the insidiousness of fads, and how they debase the human spirit. In The Big Hit, the song is played to celebrate Wahlberg's triumph as another hip, ironic antihero in a string of hip, ironic antiheroes. There's an irony there that even the hipsters weren't prepared for.

--Noel Murray

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