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Kirk Wong
Mark Wahlberg, Lou Diamond Phillips, Christina Applegate, Bokeem Woodbine, Antonio Saboto Jr.
Ben Ramsey

Hit Happens
Box Office:
Budget $13 million. Opening weekend $10.809 million on 2149 screens. Domestic gross $27.052 million.
Rated R for violence, pervasive language and some sexuality.

Widescreen 1.85:1/16x9
English Dolby Digital 5.1
English Dolby Surround 2.0
English, French

Runtime: 91 min.
Price: $14.95
Release Date: 10/20/1998

• Audio Commentary With Director Che-Kirk Wong and Producer Warren Zide
• Audio Commentary With Screenwriter Ben Ramsey
• Deleted Scenes
• Trailer
• Production Notes

Superbit DVD
Music soundtrack

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The Big Hit (1998)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson

Like many of you, I spend a fair amount of time perusing DVD newsgroups. I do this mainly for various kinds of information, but it's also interesting to pick up on opinions that open me up to movies I might not otherwise see.

Case in point: while I don't remember the specific topic, one time I read someone's opinion that The Big Hit was a nearly perfect movie. The Big Hit??!! You gotta be kidding me! This is the kind of film I normally would like to see. It includes lots of action with the John Woo imprimatur attached, and I was still very high off of Face/Off when it arrived on movie screens, but it received so many negative reviews that I passed on it.

Of course, there are many stupid opinions all over the Internet - some might even say that many of them reside right here! - so it's not like this one guy's fondness for The Big Hit meant much of anything. Still, it got me thinking about the movie, and when I stopped by the video store and saw it there, I decided to give it a whirl.

Now that I've seen The Big Hit, I need to contact that guy and find out what he was smoking. Granted, it's not a bad movie, but it's so far from “great” that it's scary.

The Big Hit is yet another movie that seems to have all the elements of a really strong film but somehow doesn't manage to capitalize upon them. Admittedly, Hit is a lot more fun than the dull and listless The One, but it has its own problems. In a lot of ways, it simply tries too hard. Almost every character wants to be bigger than life, but they all just come across as vaguely silly.

The main exception to this rule is our main character, Melvin (Mark Wahlberg). Although he's a hit man, he's almost the only nice character in the film. In a way, this tone reminded me of comedy classic Ruthless People. In that picture, the irony stemmed from the fact that only nice folks in the movie were the "ruthless" kidnappers; while none of the rest were actual criminals, they were terrible people.

In The Big Hit, not only do most of the characters act like bad people, they are bad people; they're fellow hit men and other forms of criminals. However, like with Ruthless People, the non-criminals in the film are also pretty unlikable folks; they may not be crooks, but they're unsympathetic nonetheless.

Other than Melvin, the only exception to this rule is his would-be abductee, Keiko (China Chow). From literally the first second she lays eyes on him, we know exactly where their relationship is headed. By that point in the film, we know that Melvin is already involved with two other women, not because he's a sleaze but due to the fact he can't have anyone dislike him. This means he can’t say “no” to either of them. Of course, we also have learned by that point that both women are rather pushy and unpleasant; while both women are physically attractive, they both seem completely wrong for our pseudo-hero. (Actually, they both seem wrong for just about anybody, but especially for a nice guy such as Melvin.)

We also learn early on that Melvin's counterpart Cisco (Lou Diamond Phillips) is a complete sleaze, and a cowardly sleaze at that. During their first job, he let Melvin do all the work but came in at the end to shoot up some corpses to make it look like he was involved. Once the kidnapping starts to go south - it was Cisco's baby from the start, and Melvin only got involved to be nice - Cisco predictably turns on Melvin to save his own hide.

All of these factors mean that any half-brained viewer (such as myself) knows exactly how the film will end very early on in the process. Much of the time, that doesn't really matter. After all, how many films really offer surprising conclusions? Did anybody really think that Willy the whale wouldn't get free? Much of the time, movies succeed not because you don't know what will happen; even though you know the destination, the journey itself can be very enjoyable and entertaining.

To a certain degree, The Big Hit falls into that category; it offers enough thrills and adventure to keep you interested for much of the way. However, it does nothing to distinguish itself from the masses of other action films. Here's my theory about movies: five percent of them are great, five percent of them are terrible, and the other 90 percent fall within the city limits of "mediocre." Now, they may be "pretty good" mediocre, or they may be "borderline terrible," but I think that's how it works; very few films are truly thoroughly fantastic or absolutely execrable.

In my opinion, The Big Hit falls somewhere around the 60th percentile. It's better than average, but not by much. Ironically, its main strength is also its greatest weakness: its excessively broad characters. Actually, the vast majority of the personas in the movie shouldn't even be called "characters;" they're caricatures, and crudely drawn ones at that.

The tremendously stereotypical presentation of Jewish people in the film probably generated a lot of negative sentiment toward it, but I can't say that it seemed offensive to me; since almost every character was so exaggerated, this choice appeared unfortunate but not terribly egregious. However, I don't really understand why the filmmakers felt they needed to use such broad stereotypes for the Jewish characters; I don't think they ever considered using similar personalities for the black or Latino characters. (The main Asian character is something of a stereotype, but at least he's balanced by his daughter Keiko, who's one of the only two likable participants.)

Actually, Cisco is the most broadly drawn character of the bunch, but The Big Hit does not depict him as a Latino stereotype. No, he's a hip-hop caricature, and Phillips goes way over the top with his performance. I still can't decide if this is good or bad; it makes Cisco a tremendously unlikable and obnoxious character, but that was probably the intent.

Phillips' work is the most exaggerated of the film, but it's still in keeping with the overall tone. Part of the reason the stereotyping doesn't seem too offensive is due to the fact that The Big Hit frequently borders upon being a spoof of action movies. The world is set slightly askew and everything is blown up much bigger than life. It's an interesting approach, but I'm not terribly sure it works.

Part of the reason for that stems from the fact that the movie often smacks of a Tarantino influence. At this point in film history, that's probably inevitable; almost every modern film that tries to be hip and edgy offers a nod to Quentin. However, his movies worked because of the delicate balance between the savagery of the actions they depict and the quirky little bits of dialogue and character development. Tarantino's worlds are alien to us but they seem essentially real because so many of us can connect to much of what the participants say.

That's not the case in The Big Hit. It's just a big cartoon, so when it tries to "get serious," we can't really accept it. Because of this, it suffers from a lack of charisma at its center. Melvin is a sympathetic character, but he's not too interesting. Actually, I think that issue stems mainly from Wahlberg's acting. He's often not a very good performer, and just as in Boogie Nights, he frequently seems flat and wooden. We root for Melvin, but only halfheartedly.

Still, for all my critical complaints, The Big Hit offers enough entertainment to be worth a watch. Despite that Internet opinion, it doesn’t provide a perfect experience. In fact, it contains quite a few flaws. But for action fans, it should merit a look.

The DVD Grades: Picture A- / Audio A- / Bonus B+

The Big Hit appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 and in a fullscreen version on this double-sided, single-layered DVD; the widescreen image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Only the letterboxed edition was examined for this review. Overall, this was a terrific transfer that only showed a few minor concerns.

Sharpness consistently looked excellent. The movie always appeared crisp and well defined. At no time did I witness any signs of softness or fuzziness. Jagged edges and moiré effects caused no concerns, and I also detected no signs of edge enhancement. Print flaws seemed very minor. Some light grain appeared in a few slow-motion shots, and I also saw a few specks of grit. However, these were very modest issues; for the most part, the movie remained clean and fresh.

Colors came across as nicely bright and bold. The movie featured a vivid palette that worked for its comic book tone, and the hues appeared very vibrant and lively at all times. I saw no concerns related to bleeding, noise, or other areas. Black levels were deep and dense, while shadow detail seemed clear and appropriately heavy without any excessive opacity. Ultimately, The Big Hit fell short of reference level, but it offered a very solid visual experience.

Also excellent was the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of The Big Hit. It featured a very active soundfield. Actually, at times the mix seemed a little too active; for example, during one scene in which Melvin worked out on a punching bag, the exaggerated use of the surrounds became a little distracting. However, this attitude ultimately worked for the cartoony nature of the flick. The front channels displayed good stereo presence for the music and also offered well-delineated effects that blended together nicely and moved cleanly from channel to channel. The surrounds contributed a lot of unique audio, especially during the movie’s many action sequences. The track blasted a great deal of vivid audio from the rear, and the elements meshed together well to create an encompassing and involving setting.

Audio quality appeared solid for the most part. Some lines displayed a slight amount of edginess and some speech was a little flat, but for the most part, dialogue came across as natural and distinct. Speech also showed no problems related to intelligibility. Music was bright and vivid and offered positive range with clear highs and rich lows. Effects demonstrated some slight high-end distortion at times, but those concerns remained modest. Otherwise, the effects blasted cleanly and displayed a powerful impact. The track featured fine bass response, which seemed tight and deep at all times. Overall, the slight distortion could distract a little, but otherwise The Big Hit provided a terrific soundtrack.

This DVD of The Big Hit packs a nice roster of extras. First up we find two separate audio commentaries. The first involves director Che-Kirk Wong and producer Warren Zide. Both men were recorded together for this running, screen-specific track. Zide plays a very small role in the proceedings. For the most part, he largely acts as interviewer, and I actually think he simply leaves after a little while; I heard nothing from him for very long stretches.

However, that was fine with me, for Wong proved to be a terrific subject. He offered a rich and entertaining commentary that covered a great deal of territory. Wong discussed subjects like casting for the movie - including others considered for the parts - as well as changes to the script, the effects of test audiences, fight choreography, and many amusing anecdotes from the set. The story about Bokeem Woodbine’s giant unit merits a listen on its own. I also loved the manner in which he described the differences between Hollywood filmmaking and Hong Kong shoots. A few empty spaces occasionally marred the track, but as a whole, I really enjoyed Wong’s discussion, and he provided a wealth of compelling information.

In addition, we discover a commentary from screenwriter Ben Ramsey who also provides a running, screen-specific piece. A chatty presence, Ramsey offers a reasonably engaging track. At times he does little more than simply relate the on-screen action, but he usually gives us some good notes about the film. He covers the origins of his work, what he wanted to do with the flick, how the movie differed from the original script, and a lot of other areas related to the film. Overall, this commentary wasn’t quite as informative and entertaining as the first one, but it still offered a useful and enjoyable discussion.

Next we get three deleted scenes. Each lasts between 75 seconds and 95 seconds for a total of four minutes, 12 seconds of material. None of them are essentially, but all are entertaining and worth a look.

Finally, we get some old DVD standbys. The Big Hit includes its theatrical trailer, which provides a pretty entertaining and compelling clip. It also gives us some brief but interesting production notes within the DVD's booklet. It’s not a packed disc, but it seems like a fairly solid set nonetheless.

Unfortunately, The Big Hit itself is only a little above average. For those of us who like semi-quirky action flicks, it's a fairly entertaining romp, but it's one that may leave you vaguely unsatisfied. Still, it's a fine DVD, with excellent picture and sound and some strong supplements. It's yet another DVD that will be loved by anyone who already enjoys the film; if that's you, then you should not hesitate to buy it. For everyone else, give it a rental and see what you think; it's definitely worth trying for fans of the genre.

To rate this movie, go to the Superbit DVD release of THE BIG HIT