The Best Movie You Never Saw: The Big Hit

Last Updated on July 30, 2021

Welcome to The Best Movie You NEVER Saw, a column dedicated to examining films that have flown under the radar or gained traction throughout the years, earning them a place as a cult classic or underrated gem that was either before it’s time and/or has aged like a fine wine.

This week we’ll be looking at THE BIG HIT!

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THE STORY: A neurotic hitman named Melvin Smiley (Mark Wahlberg) is hunted by several teams of assassins after a kidnapping gone wrong, all the while dealing with the constant threats of both his future in-laws and a geeky video store clerk hell-bent on getting back his store’s copy of KING KONG LIVES.

THE PLAYERS: Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Lou Diamond Phillips, Bokeem Woodbine, Avery Brooks & Christina Applegate. Written by Ben Ramsay. Directed by Kirk Wong.

"Most critics despised The Big Hit, and audiences didn't flock to see it, perhaps confused as to whether it was a comedy or an action movie … and never dreaming it was a hybrid of the two… it expands its ideas to such a ludicrous extreme that you can't take it seriously, and that's just what I like about it." – Leonard Maltin – 151 Best Movies You've Never Seen (First ed.). New York: Harper Studio. p. 14.

THE HISTORY: The mid-nineties were an interesting time for action movies. In 1997, the Chinese regained control of Hong Kong, and as a result, for a time many of the region’s biggest talents made their way to Hollywood. This included not only actors like Jackie Chan, Chow Yun-Fat, Jet Li, and others, but also plenty of directors like John Woo, Ringo Lam, and Kirk Wong, whose American debut was THE BIG HIT.

the big hit mark wahlberg lou diamond phillips

Wong was luckier than a lot of his compatriots, with this being a major studio movie with a hot cast and a terrific script by Ben Ramsay, plus a high-brow producing team behind him, including Woo, Terrence Chang, and Wesley Snipes. He was able to attract a solid cast, with this Mark Wahlberg’s follow-up to BOOGIE NIGHTS. Despite lukewarm reviews, it was a modest hit at the box office, grossing $27 million against a $13 million budget, although in the years since, as Wahlberg’s star continued to rise, the film became a bit of a footnote in his career, and is rarely talked about these days.

WHY IT’S GREAT: One can’t deny THE BIG HIT is dated. It’s very much a nineties movie, for both good and bad reasons. On the positive side, it has a fun soundtrack, including bands like “Fun Loving Criminals”, truly garish costuming and retro ultra-bright nineties cinematography that makes the movie look like a sitcom, and a script by Ramsay that’s clearly trying to pay homage to Quentin Tarantino, with its quirky pop culture references (the fact that a VHS tape of KING KONG LIVES is the MacGuffin is kind of genius) and cool-guy gangsters. That’s the good part. The bad part is some pretty obnoxious misogyny, including a weird subplot where the character Wahlberg’s Melvin kidnaps a teen (or well, a young college student) who promptly falls in love with him – something which most definitely would not fly with audiences nowadays.

the big hit mark wahlberg lou diamond phillips

But, if you can accept it as a product of its time THE BIG HIT is a blast. For one thing, Wahlberg was coming into his own at the time, still trying to escape his image as Marky Mark the rapper/underwear model, and he worked overtime proving himself. For me, the late nineties was his golden period, and his performances in this, BOOGIE NIGHTS, THE CORRUPTOR and THREE KINGS are what helped him claw his way onto the A-list. Here, he’s really given a chance to take this piss out of the tough-guy gangster character, mocking both his perceived brainlessness (a far cry from reality – as he’s proven to be a shrewd businessman) being so easily manipulated by the baddies, and masculinity (how many hitmen get names like Melvin Smiley?).

The supporting cast is aces, with Lou Diamond Phillips a scene-stealer as Smiley’s duplicitous best pal, while Avery Brooks should have had a second career as a big-screen villain based on his work here, with it hitting during DS9’s peak. You even get Lainie Kazan and Elliot Gould as Smiley’s potential in-laws, with Christina Applegate his neurotic fiancée, while Lela Rochon plays his mistress. Best of all though is Bokeem Woodbine as Crunch, a slicker than slick hitman who’s sworn off women in favor of “straight jackin’”. Sounds sophomoric, I know, but Woodbine sells it.

the big hit mark wahlberg

BEST SCENE: Fittingly for a film with so many Hong Kong action connections, the carnage in THE BIG HIT is super solid, with Kirk Wong getting a lot out of the $13 million budget, which probably seemed lavish to him coming out of HK. The last fight between Wahlberg and Phillips is very well cut and choreographed, along with some funny asides (including an “I’m dying” monologue where Phillips waxes poetic about killing dolphins).

SEE IT: THE BIG HIT is currently streaming on Crackle in the U.S, and Netflix in Canada. You can also buy it from all the usual suspects.

PARTING SHOT: While THE BIG HIT was never intended to be anything more than a B-movie, it’s nonetheless good fun, with top-notch turns from Wahlberg, Phillips, Woodbine, Avery Brooks and more. It’s a movie I’ve always enjoyed, and worth a revisit if you only vaguely remember it from the nineties.

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About the Author

Chris Bumbray began his career with JoBlo as the resident film critic (and James Bond expert) way back in 2007, and he has stuck around ever since, being named editor-in-chief in 2021. A voting member of the CCA and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved critic, you can also catch Chris discussing pop culture regularly on CTV News Channel.