Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Forgotten 90s Action: The Big Hit (1998)

Though Mark Wahlberg did “hit big” with Paul Anderson's Boogie Nights in 1997 like a lot of actors that film was just one of several that he used to discover his niche. The year previous he'd tried playing a psycho boyfriend in Fear and the year after he tried his hand at action comedy with The Big Hit. The film was the American debut of Hong Kong director Kirk Wong who had directed Jackie Chan's Crime Story in 1993 (not to be confused with the short lived Michael Mann TV show).

The Big Hit sees Mark Wahlberg play Melvin Smiley, one of a group of hitmen who work for a mob boss called Harris (Avery Brooks). Despite being a badass at work, Melvin is a pushover at home alternating between a mistress who hates him and a wife Chantel (Christina Applegate) who is clueless as to what he actually does to afford their lavish suburban home. When one of his colleagues Cisco (Lou Diamond Phillips) convinces Melvin and the group to do a freelance kidnap job everything starts to wrong and before long Melvin has a hostage in tow, a group of hitmen after him and worse of all his in-laws are due to come over!

The Big Hit is kind of an overlooked film in Wahlberg's filmography. It didn't make much of a splash at the cinema and went straight to video in the UK. It reminded me a little of the Skip Woods flick that came out the same year Thursday, but more fun and a little less sadistic. Some plot points also seemed quite similar to Timur Bekmambetov's Wanted with the shrew-like girlfriend of a slightly neurotic hitman. Unlike those two films The Big Hit has a goofy (and I mean really goofy) sense of humour.

The film sets the tone from the start in which Melvin and his team take out a group of guys in a building leaping through the air and running up walls in a seemingly deliberate piss take of John Woo. In actual fact, Woo was one of the executive producers along with Wesley Snipes so I'm sure he took it in good humour. The action scenes are really well handled with the exception of a couple of shots that rely on some ropey 90s CGI but it's nothing that you can't forgive.

The main attraction is a rather bizarre scene towards the end in which Melvin arrives at an enormous video store to return an overdue copy of King Kong Lives and engages in a lengthy kung fu fight with Cisco. That probably gives a good guide as the kind of offbeat humour this film gives you. It's a strange hybrid of high energy action, meet-the-parents comedy antics and black farce. For example one sequence sees Melvin try to stop his neighbour's dog get near a bin bag full of body parts. It's played completely for laughs.

Though I've never completely warmed to the artist formerly known as Marky Mark as a actor he's actually quite enjoyably low key in this. The real acting honours though have to go to Lou Diamond Phillips. I always used to think Phillips was kind of a dull actor but he really goes all-out awesome in this flick as the charismatic live-wire Cisco. Though the character slowly turns into a bad guy you can't help but still root for him. The rest of the supporting cast don't get a lot to do. Applegate makes an ideal nagging Jewish wife and Elliott Gould as her hen-pecked father is highly amusing. Both are welcome additions.

In terms of pointing out anything bad about the film, there isn't really a lot wrong with The Big Hit. It is what it is. If I could pinpoint why isn't not a better known film it's perhaps that the story is really quite flimsy and the cartoonishness does become a little grating after a while. I mean at least the Lethal Weapon films flipped back and forth between comedy and seriousness to keep you interested.

Overall The Big Hit isn't an important film but it is quite an enjoyable film. It's a shame Wong never really directed much after because he shows a lot of inventive skill in this. And Wahlberg shouldn't have taken 12 years to do another action comedy (The Other Guys) because he's actually pretty good in this role, far better than other films where he's played straight action roles like Planet of the Apes or Max Payne.

10 comments:

  1. I remember seeing this one and enjoying it. As you say, it's not too serious, but it seems like this is done entirley on purpose, the tone of the film is kind of like a comic book. All I really remember is the fight at the video club, while trying to return King Kong Lives.

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  2. Yeah, it's some good knockabout fun. I thought Wong brought a refreshing Hong Kong influence to it.

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  3. I saw this one in the theater and highly enjoyed it. Great cast (especially Lou Diamond Phillips), inventive action, and unpredictable zaniness. Excellent write-up!

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  4. Absolutely, I'd completely written off Phillips as an interesting actor until I saw this. Without him it would have been a far lesser film.

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  5. My friends and I loved this one when it first came out-- I want to say we saw it in the theater twice, though one of the times was on dollar Tuesday, so not that big of a deal--, and it still works for me today. I think it's the kind of thing that, if made in the modern DTV market, probably would've been heavily edited, and also probably would've been much darker, which is too bad, because I'd like to see more films made like this. Good stuff.

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  6. Exactly, we need more light-hearted, funny DTV action movies like this. There's too many faux-serious, Tony Scott wannabe directors out there.

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  7. Great review! I remember seeing this only once when it first hit the theater and being really let down. I think it was the slapstick humor that turned me off, especially since I wasn't expecting that kind of film. I was hugely into Hong Kong Cinema back then and when I heard Wong was at the helm and Woo producing, I was really stoked. But I remember being surprised that it was half comedy and I guess that's just what I wasn't expecting and wrote it off. I think I'll give it another shot though. I might like it a lot more now!

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  9. I know what you mean about the humour. It turned me off on first watch as well because it's billed as just an action flick produced by John Woo. But on second watch there's a lot there to enjoy. The action when it does come is really well done and humour pretty funny. Lou Diamond Philips' performance is what makes it worth a re-watch.

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