Sunday, September 11, 2011

The Hit List (2011)

In 2004, the Michael Mann film Collateral, starring Tom Cruise and Jamie Foxx was released.  It was a thriller based around the coupling of a contract killer and a cab driver.  The film was well made, acted, and incredibly entertaining.  I am surprised I have not seen more films attempt to copy that formula, as the film was quite successful both critically and commercially, but finally, my prayers have been answered in the form of this direct-to-video release starring Cuba Gooding Jr. and Cole Hauser, The Hit List.  The story is very similar to that of Collateral’s, with a few exceptions, chiefly in terms of how good the movie actually is.  The film is not very good and gets very few points for originality, and only slightly more in terms of the quality of the Blu-ray, but it did manage to be somewhat entertaining.
Cole Hauser stars as Allan.  As we first meet Allan, he has a black eye and does not appear to be in a great mood.  A phone call establishes that he needs money or else…, but Allan reassures the caller that once he gets his promotion, the debt will be settled.  Unfortunately, after meeting with his boss and others at the company he works for, the promotion goes to another, pompous, employee.  Allan is understandably upset, but is only due for more problems.  Upon arriving home, Allan finds his wife, Sydney (Ginny Weirick), and his best friend, Mike (Drew Waters) in a compromising situation.  Now further annoyed (to say the least), Allan heads out to a bar.  Arriving at the bar, Allan begins to engage in conversation with a fellow patron.

This patron is Jonas (Cuba Gooding Jr.), who eventually gets Allan to the point of listing the top five people he would like to be taken out of his life, which includes his boss, the promoted employee, the man behind his debts, Mike, and finally, Sydney.  While Allan is drunk and only thinks to be kidding around, the next morning leads to a shocking discovery – Allan’s boss has been murdered in cold blood.  It would appear that Jonas is in fact a contract killer and has decided to take Allan’s dilemma as a personal project that he intends to finish.  Despite attempts to alert police, including Det. Neil McKay (Jonathon LaPaglia), Allan becomes an unwilling participant in Jonas’ deadly game.

Now in summarizing the film, it would seem like there is at least an interesting narrative taking place and to the film’s credit, the narrative did keep me involved.  However, there were plenty of other problems in the way, such as how the film was cast, the scripting, the ridiculous third act, and the overall production, which really annoyed me.  Starting with the acting, I feel like a coin was tossed in order to see which lead would be in which role, but the wrong side came up.  I think both Gooding and Hauser are capable of being quite good in the right roles (one is an Oscar winner and the other…well I liked Hauser in Pitch Black).  Unfortunately, I think the actors got their roles swapped.  Obviously Jonas is the more interesting character, but I did not really buy Gooding in the performance.  He kept his tone distractingly low key; as if to proclaim that he should obviously be the darkly humorous/intense foil to the worrier that is Allan, which just wasn’t cutting it for me.  It was also distracting to see him dressed exactly like his Jerry Maguire co-star Tom Cruise from Collateral.  On the other side of this, I could not really get into Hauser as being this wimpy kind of corporate guy either.  Switching around the roles may not have made me love this film, but I certainly feel I would have been more interested in it.

The rest of the problems with this film come down to how the script delivers on its premise.  While the film establishes itself pretty clearly, there is almost no complexity to any of what occurs.  Everything follows a pretty straight path and does not attempt to be very subtle about any of the points involving the characters or in establishing certain story beats.  Rather than have the viewer piece things together in any kind of clever way, characters just explain all of the things that make them who they are.  Jonas, for example, should be an enigma that we come to learn more about, but instead you have characters from the government literally have phone calls that discuss exactly why he is the way he is.  I can certainly appreciate a film that just wants to be a simple action flick, but it seems like this plot wanted to really go for something that felt cleverer than it turned out to be.  It also does not help that most of the dialogue is pretty awful as well.

Strangely, the film sets itself up with a random opening title sequence as if this had some kind of connection to James Bond films, which was awkward to watch and then confusing to not have any sort of tone that would suggest a link between that title sequence and the rest of the film, which takes itself very seriously.  In addition, adding to the strangeness, the final act of this film ditches any sort of reality and becomes The Terminator.  In particular, it becomes the scene where Arnold storms into a police station and mows down a bunch of cops.  At this point, I just could not care about what the movie had to offer.

There are a lot of problems with this film, but it is also watchable in a way.  I certainly can’t really recommend it, as the film does not even manage to reach the levels of so bad it’s funny.  However, the film is also not terrible; it is just mostly a mess that is ultimately unsatisfying by the time it reaches its conclusion.  While I did find the roles to be miscast, I can say that the actors do accomplish their tasks the best they can.  I wish Cuba Gooding Jr. could dig himself out of the whole he has found himself in, but it seems he is still lodged firmly deep in the realm of these forgettable action films.  The film presents a decent enough premise, but its strengths do not amount to very much.

Order your copy of The Hit List here:

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