Wednesday, April 29, 1998

The Big Hit

Posted By on Wed, Apr 29, 1998 at 12:00 AM

Hong Kong director Che-Kirk Wong's The Big Hit hits all of Hollywood's major marketing foibles at the same time. Wong is the newest action director from John Woo's hometown to make his North American debut. His superbad producers Woo, Terence Chang and Wesley Snipes turn out the stiffest in multicultural cool with a hugely diverse cast. And, of course, the killers-for-hire story wouldn't be complete without the deconstructive tongue-in-cheek wit pioneered by one modern White Negro filmmaker, now would it?

Melvin Smiley (Mark Wahlberg) is a stressed-out criminal who does jobs with three other outlaws, Cisco (Lou Diamond Phillips), Crunch (Bokeem Woodbine) and Vince (Antonio Sabato Jr.), and drinks Maalox by the bottle. The crew's exploits provide colorful firefights for Wong to ham it up, while filling the coffers of their boss Paris (Avery Brooks), who, with his bald head, strongly resembles Ving Rhames' iconic gangster Marsellus Wallace.

The intelligently named Smiley obsesses in his spare time over whether people "like him" or not, and pulls three women, including his Jewish American Princess fiancée Pam Shulman (Christina Applegate) and gold-digging mistress, Chantel (Lela Rochon). The film's plot turns around this incredible premise.

The hitsters make a move on the oddly beautiful Keiko, daughter of Japanese industrialist Mr. Nishi and, when she and Melvin make some smoke (literally, over a botched kosher dinner), a grievous battle between Nishi's army and Smiley's crew seems imminent.

Amid all these details, the flick builds funny quirks around its satiric quartet of hit men. Keiko (China Chow) at one point jokingly refers to the crew as the Spice Boys. Woodbine, again taking the corny route, by far gets the silliest role as a miscreant who "quits" women to frequent adult video stores. His Crunch uses a wrist exerciser and kisses his hands obsessively. But Phillips gets the Grimace of the Year award while chasing quarries as the film evolves into an irresistible joke.

What's fascinating about The Big Hit is how it totally and irrevocably absorbs the impact of Pulp Fiction. It's so shamelessly ridiculous and gratuitously outlandish as to be quite entertaining.

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