Rated R - Running time: 1:33 - Released 4/24/98

In his writing debut, Ben Ramsey is trying to pattern himself after Quentin Tarantino, but he still has a ways to go. The Big Hit could be at least a moderate hit if it were either not written like a cartoon, or, given the cartooney writing style, didn't take itself so seriously. But Ramsey and director Kirk Wong seem to want it both ways. In fact, I daresay they waffled a bit on whether they wanted this to be a full-blown comedy, but decided that with a lot of violence and an R rating it might do better at the box office. Bad choice. The result is a script that reads like an Ebonics primer, where the comedy usually fails to hit and the violence usually fails to convince.

"Marky Mark" Wahlberg, who was convicted of several minor felonies before joining the "New Kids on the Block" pop group and making it big, can probably identify with his role of Melvin Smiley, the "nice guy" member of a team of high-tech killers. Working for a wealthy black man named Paris (Avery Brooks of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine), the gang seems to be headed by Cisco (Lou Diamond Phillips), a wild-eyed opportunist who bitterly regrets the fact that he is not black. And money is definitely no object when they go on a job, with every state-of-the-art weapon available.

Trying to be "nice" to both his girlfriend Chantel (Lela Rochon) and his fiancée Pam (Christina Applegate), both of whom treat him terribly, Melvin wants to quit his part-time killer job and go straight. Pam doesn't know about his profession, but he owes money to Chantel, and so he must participate in one more scheme, a high-stakes kidnapping. The victim is Keiko Nishi (China Chow), the daughter of Japanese tycoon Jiro Nishi (Sab Shimono). The plan was thought up by loose cannon Cisco, and not sanctioned by Paris, nor would it be, since Paris is Jiro's close friend and Keiko's godfather. So when Paris finds out that his goddaughter has been kidnapped, he's out for blood and orders Cisco to find the perpetrators and proceed with "the big hit."

Lou Diamond Phillips has had a spotty career so far, punctuating a large collection of mediocre movies with a few notables, such as La Bamba (1987), Young Guns (1988), and, more recently, Courage Under Fire (1996). His portrayal of Cisco is adequately over-the-top, but he is too serious for this movie; his performance undermines the comedic elements. This is one of those "it's so bad, it's good" movies, and could be really funny if not for Phillips and Brooks playing it like a straight "gangsta" thriller. On the other hand, at least he has some energy, which is more than can be said for Wahlberg. He appears to be sleepwalking here, barely able to make a spark with any of his three female counterparts.

One very brief performance that adds some needed humor is the geeky video store clerk played by Danny Smith, who constantly harasses Melvin over the phone regarding a late return. Another attempt at humor that falls flat is the appearance of Elliot Gould and Lainie Kazan as Pam's stereotypical Jewish parents, who are horrified that their daughter is marrying a "goy." Their presence is out of place, like a scene from Rhoda in the middle of Dirty Harry.

Perhaps if Spike Lee had directed this film, it would have met the mark better, but as it is, it looks like either a confusion of styles or a difference of opinion between writer and director. **

Copyright 1998 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

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