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Big Hit, The Print E-mail
Wednesday, 01 November 2006

Image “The Big Hit” is an agreeable action comedy with a flimsy premise but lots of dazzling stunts and wire work, plus a likeable central performance by Mark Wahlberg and a bad guy played by Lou Diamond Phillips with all restraint gone and his pedal to the metal. It’s by far the most flamboyant performance of Phillips’ career, and one of his most entertaining. Furthermore, the producers include John Woo and Wesley Snipes.

Wahlberg Is Melvin Smiley, an inoffensive sort of guy always worried that people might not like him. This is a possibility: he’s a hit man in a gang headed by ultracool Paris (the ultracool Avery Brooks). Also in the four-man hit squad are perpetually overcranked Cisco (Phillips) and black Crunch (Bokeem Woodbine), who’s just discovered the joys of masturbation and has fallen in love with his right hand. Vince (Antonio Sabato, Jr.), a white guy, is pretty dopey, and talks like a rapper.

After Cisco boasts his way to a larger share of the latest hit than Melvin gets, Melvin goes to his quiet suburban home with Chantel (Lela Rochon), a double-crossing black babe who’s taking him for a ride. Melvin keeps another identical home nearby, and spends time there with his peaches-and-cream white fiancée Pam (Christina Applegate), who’s pushing him to get married. Cisco gets the not-so-bright idea of kidnapping Japanese-American princess Keiko Nishi (China Chow), sure that her father Jiro (Sab Shimono) is a billionaire. Unfortunately, he only used to be a billionaire; he’s spent all his money on “Taste the Golden Spray,” a bomb of an action movie that he insisted on directing and starring in himself. And there’s more trouble: he’s a good friend of Paris, who’s also Keiko’s godfather. When he learns of the kidnapping, Paris insists Cisco take out the guys responsible.

Meanwhile, Melvin has more problems with Chantal, and Pam has invited her parents for a visit. Through plot complications, Melvin ends up tending the bright, resourceful Keiko, who’s attracted to him. And of course, she’s in the process of trying to escape with Pam’s parents, Jeanne (Lainie Kazan) and Morton (Elliott Gould), arrive at Melvin’s house. Jeanne is shocked that Melvin isn’t Jewish; Morton doesn’t give a damn as long as there’s plenty of booze available. There’s a lot of farcical near-encounters, door slams and head bumps.

Somehow, this also involves an overdue rental tape of “King Kong Lives” and the nasty, arrogant clerk at the video store. And of course the action includes lots of gunfire and car chases, some of which also include gunfire.

“The Big Hit” is stylishly made, with intense closeups (as of a drop of rum landing on a lens), impossible athletic stunts (Wahlberg bouncing up and down a stairwell on a rope, like a yo-yo), and occasional explosions. The editing by Robin Russell & Pietro Scalia keeps things moving at a headlong pace; the music by Graeme Revell has an ever-so-slightly satiric tone (as opposed to the movie itself, sometimes oafish in its lunging for lampoons), and the widescreen photography by Danny Nowak is crisp and handsome.

But Ben Ramsey’s script offers nothing new; if Wahlberg resembles any other action star, it’s Jackie Chan, with his somewhat hangdog air of “how did I get into THIS?” driving his actions. But unlike Chan, Wahlberg doesn’t make weapons out of whatever is at hand; instead, he has a locker full of all kinds of bang bangs and blades. He’s a killer, but he is the hero, and likeable in a puppydog manner.

But what’s this movie doing in the Blu-Ray format? You’d think that with the pool of classic movies they have to draw on, Sony Home Entertainment would be issuing films that are enhanced by Blu-Ray’s high definition format. Like, where’s “Lawrence of Arabia?” Instead, we get the kind of movies aimed at audiences who, for the most part, couldn’t give a damn if the sound is especially well designed for 5.1 (as it is here), or if the images are sharp enough you can count the hairs on an actor’s unshaven skin. Action scenes, like a dizzying one of Phillips in a car chasing Wahlberg on foot down a wooded hillside, are somewhat more exciting in high-def, but even so—why THIS movie? It’s fun, but surely there are movies in Sony’s vaults that would show off the Blu-Ray system to greater advantage.

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