The Big Hit Took Pride in Its Over-The-Top, Just-Plain-Wrong Trashiness

Movies Features Mark Wahlberg
The Big Hit Took Pride in Its Over-The-Top, Just-Plain-Wrong Trashiness

Here’s a true story: I was at my nearby Blockbuster Video one Friday night, looking for something to tide me over for the weekend. As I was at the counter with my selections, a tape slipped into the outside return slot. One of the employees picked it up and it was The Big Hit. When the employer popped the case open to see if it was rewound, he said, “Look what they did!” and showed it to everyone around the counter, including me. Just what did they do? Someone wrote “The Big Shit” in Sharpie on the front label. 

As a person who saw the movie (twice?!) when it first hit theaters, it’s understandable why someone would decide to leave that message. Released 25 years ago this month, The Big Hit is probably one of the most reprehensible action-comedies to come out of the ‘90s. It’s offensive on so many levels. It’s violent, crass, juvenile, rabidly misogynistic, slightly anti-Semitic and downright stupid.

So, why the hell am I writing a tribute piece about this?

Released during a time when most of America was trying to fight off this new thing called political correctness, The Big Hit was just one of many gleefully objectionable, R-rated actioners that studios gave lofty budgets to back in the day. (See any Jerry Bruckheimer-produced summer blockbuster of that decade.) And The Big Hit is a movie that practically takes pride in its over-the-top, just-plain-wrong trashiness. 

Mark Wahlberg, fresh off his star-making turn as porn star Dirk Diggler in Boogie Nights, leads the cast as the ironically named Melvin Smiley. He’s part of a crew of contract killers that include wannabe gangster Cisco (Lou Diamond Phillips, really working the blaccent), pretty boy Vince (Antonio Sabàto Jr., who’s really only in the movie for a few scenes) and resident Black guy Crunch (Bokeem Woodbine), who recently discovered how awesome masturbation is.

Wahlberg’s Maalox-guzzling protagonist is something of a paradox: an expert assassin who’s also a doormat. He’s been bleeding money thanks to his fiancée (Christina Applegate, going full Jewish American Princess), who gave a hefty loan to her stereotypically Jewish parents (Elliott Gould and Lainie Kazan), and his two-timing, gold-digging mistress (Lela Rochon). Even Cisco guilt-trips him out of the $25,000 bonus Melvin gets after taking out a target. Wahlberg does this in an stylishly shot yet utterly ridiculous sequence which has him wiping out goons while spinning around in the air, on the floor and even on stair railings.

Strapped for cash, Melvin gets involved in a kidnapping scheme Cisco cooks up, where they kidnap a businessman’s daughter (model China Chow, making her film debut) for a million-dollar ransom. Not only do they not know that the businessman (Sab Shimono) is bankrupt after starring and directing in a big-budget, box-office bomb (the movie’s title is Taste the Golden Spray—I shit you not!), but the daughter is also the goddaughter of their own boss (a scowling Avery Brooks).

Written by African-American first-timer Ben Ramsey, who had to have written this when he was young and pimply-faced, The Big Hit feels like an over-caffeinated macho fantasy conceived by an immature teenager who grew up on soda, dick jokes, gangsta rap and straight-to-video actioners. (Considering that the climactic battle goes down in a freakin’ video store, there may be a lot of truth in my hypothesis.) It also has a “nice guys finish last” message, as Chow’s captive starts falling for Wahlberg’s reluctant-but-sensitive captor, who tries to save her when Phillips’s knife-wielding antagonist turns on him. All I gotta say is the scene where Wahlberg and Chow start getting touchy-feely while marinating a chicken together is both ridiculous and a little disgusting.

The Big Hit is also horny, but in a pervy, confused kind of way. It has Applegate, Rochon and Chow (who unfortunately spends the entire film in a schoolgirl outfit, serving as an object of fetishistic fantasy for several creepy, male factions) as obvious eye candy. And, yet, the only nude scene we get is from our quartet of hit men, showing off their buff, bare bodies as they talk shit in the locker room. 

Despite all the explosive, bullet-riddled insanity/inanity that goes on in this story, Wesley Snipes and his production company picked up the script. They teamed up with John Woo, who was riding high in Tinseltown with Broken Arrow and Face/Off, and his producing partner Terence Chang. They brought in Hong Kong actor/director Che-Kirk Wong, who already cut his teeth melding action and comedy when he directed the 1993 Jackie Chan film Crime Story

When it came out, The Big Hit was marketed as a multicultural action flick, which was one of the reasons I checked it out. I recall reading a pre-release article in Vibe championing the film for having diverse talent behind and in front of the cameras. With the first Fast and the Furious movie only just a few years away, you could say that The Big Hit proved you could have a mainstream action-adventure by a culturally diverse crowd, starring a culturally diverse crowd, for a culturally diverse crowd.

With a $13 million budget, The Big Hit only grossed $27 million and got a mixed reaction from audiences and critics. I love the way Roger Ebert ended his pan: “I guess you could laugh at this. You would have to be seriously alienated from normal human values and be nursing a deep-seated anger against movies that make you think even a little, but you could laugh.” 

Some critics appreciated it for the junk that is. Entertainment Weekly’s Owen Gleiberman said it “takes the violently campy, we-know-this-is-what-you-crave subtext of movies like Con Air and puts it right on the surface… No one in his right mind would call The Big Hit a good movie, but I’d be lying if I said I was bored. (At Con Air, I was bored.)” Perhaps the wildest praise came from Ft. Worth Star-Telegram critic Elvis Mitchell, who not only gave it four stars (he called it “the best example of Asian action made in America”), but put it on his year-end, ten-best list (where it tied with Darren Aronofsky’s debut Pi).

After a recent rewatch, I found The Big Hit to be oddly fascinating, especially now. With modern-day Hollywood desperately trying to bring people back to the theaters by churning out bland, sanitized films that everyone and their grandmama can enjoy, The Big Hit is a rude/lewd/crude time capsule. It’s an entertainingly problematic artifact, made during a time when you could still make entertaining, problematic work. They literally don’t make movies like The Big Hit anymore. Whether that’s good or bad is up to you.

Craig D. Lindsey is a Houston-based writer. You can follow him on Twitter and Instagram at @unclecrizzle.

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