The Big Hit (1998) – Awfully Good

Last Updated on November 17, 2023

In case THE HITMAN’S WIFE’S BODYGUARD doesn’t scratch your itch for an assassin action-comedy, may we suggest you light up and take…

The Big Hit (1998)

Director: Kirk Wong
Stars: Mark Wahlberg, Lou Diamond Phillips, Christina Applegate

THE BIG HIT poster

After accidentally kidnapping his crime lord boss’ goddaughter, a surprisingly sensitive hitman feels neither good vibrations nor any sweet sensations.

Like many middle school-aged boys, I went through the “obsessed with John Woo” phase that inevitably follows the onset of male puberty. The summer FACE/OFF came out, I consumed everything remotely related to Hong Kong action cinema I could find. John Woo, Tsui Hark, Johnny To, Ringo Lam—I burned through them all like a searing bullet through a slow motion flock of doves. Then, in 1998, a new American film produced by Woo (and Wesley Snipes!) was released. It delivered everything I wanted and quickly became a movie after my own heart, one that I would’ve written myself.

Which is exactly what makes THE BIG HIT a perfect fit for this column.

THE BIG HIT christina applegate
Christina was annoyed that even when she was standing right there in front of them, Mark still asked her to say hi to her mother for him.

The reckless mix of tongue-in-cheek humor, high-octane gun-fu action, and meta jokes about Hollywood—all wrapped up in a delirious package of glorified violence—endlessly appealed to me. And watching THE BIG HIT now, it really is like a fan script a 14 year old kid would write after watching HARD BOILED and PULP FICTION. It’s why I loved this movie then and why I still love it, even if parts of it have not aged super well as a relic of the 1990s.

The film follows a group of contract killers working for a vicious, big-time mob boss. As part of a side hustle, they decide to kidnap the daughter of a Japanese billionaire, who unbeknownst to them recently went bankrupt from bankrolling, directing and starring in the most expensive movie ever produced. (The title, TASTE THE GOLDEN SPRAY, still cracks me up.) When they discover all too late that their new hostage is actually their boss’ goddaughter, the “nice guy” of the group is set up to take the fall as everyone he knows turns on him.

THE BIG HIT seppuku
I mean, this movie didn’t win any Oscars, but that still seems a little overdramatic…

It’s a fun premise and THE BIG HIT uses it to strike an interesting tone. In case the opening scene, in which a man has a casual conversation with his girlfriend while dismembering a body in his bathtub, doesn’t make it clear enough, this is definitely a dark comedy that constantly bounces back and forth between silliness and violence. However, there’s also a streak of sweet, childlike innocence to it thanks to the naïve, sometimes frustrating, hero who’s annoyingly nice.

The script by Ben Ramsey (DRAGONBALL EVOLUTION) is highly crass and endlessly quotable, as well as cliché—but in ways that manage to still be fun 20+ years later. There are obvious tropes of the genre from this time period: a hitman ready to retire and sail around the world, cheesy Tarantino-esque dialogue that probably sounded cooler on paper, and the standard action beats you expect from something with John Woo’s name attached, including a Mexican standoff and a gunfight that makes use of a stairwell banister.

And then Ramsey adds in random, inexplicable elements that will have you questioning everything you were expecting out of this movie:

THE BIG HIT minivan
Petition to add “Minivan of Doom” to the pantheon of great cinematic vehicles alongside the Batmobile and the car from THE WRAITH.

  • A main character—a murderous assassin named Melvin Smiley— whose defining quality is his paralyzing fear that people won’t like him. As a result, everyone walks all over him, from his coworkers to his multiple girlfriends. The movie never explains why or what kind of trauma led to this and instead plays it for laughs. (“LOL Marky Mark has to chug Maalox to deal with the ulcer he’s getting from his crippling untreated anxiety.”)
  • A locker room scene, where the camera longingly gazes at each man’s chiseled naked body while they take turns complimenting each other’s physique, that feels like the setup for gay porn. It’s a level of male homoeroticism not seen since SHOWDOWN IN LITTLE TOKYO.
  • Not unrelated, a subplot involving a guy named Crunch who is obsessed with masturbation because he’s never done it before. (His disturbing explanation? “I never needed to. I’ve been fucking since I was 10.”) He is constantly seen exercising his right hand, agonizing over his choice of lotion, and trying to convince everyone else to give up women for self-gratification.
  • A recurring gag involving the return of an overdue VHS tape to the video store (probably the most 90s thing about this movie) and the crazed movie nerd who constantly threatens to kill Melvin over a late copy of KING KONG LIVES. The final action set piece takes place in the video store because the main character decides that further late fees are worse than running away from the team of assassins sent to murder him.
  • Inane action scenes that may test the concept of “suspension of disbelief,” like a car chase through a heavily wooded forest, gun fights that involve bungee cords and the use of nightvision during the day, and a life-saving piece of movie marketing.
  • A truly problematic “love story” between Melvin, who already has a fiancée and a mistress, and the young girl he is holding hostage in his house. (She was clearly meant to be in high school, but they ADRed someone saying she’s in college when they realized that was a terrible idea.) In addition to the obvious Stockholm Syndrome, there’s no shortage of uncomfortably disturbing scenes between China Chow and Mark Wahlberg, including a supposedly sexy moment where he has to take off her underwear because she’s tied up and needs to use the bathroom (you know, because he kidnapped her), multiple scenes where she psychoanalyzes him like a therapist, and a seriously gross sequence where they messily stuff a raw chicken together that may convert you to plant-based poultry.
  • What can only be described as “telecommunications porn” featuring increasingly advanced call-tracing technology.

THE BIG HIT tracebuster
This belongs in the Smithsonian.

Most of the cast seems game to take these big swings. THE BIG HIT came right at the start of Mark Wahlberg’s transition from rapper to actual actor. and while his performance is still pretty rough around the edges, he at least attempts playing Melvin as a real character slightly different than himself. The film also boasts Christina Applegate, China Chow, Elliott Gould, Star Trek’s Avery Brooks and future Congressional candidate Antonio Sabato Jr. However, the real MVP of THE BIG HIT is former YOUNG GUN Lou Diamond Phillips. LDP is the one performer who truly seems to know the movie he’s in and plays the over the top villain with panache, genuine humor and plenty of moments of glorious overacting. By the end of the film he becomes a cartoon character come to life—that includes the inability to die, even when a car is dropped off a cliff on to his face.

THE BIG HIT is without a doubt a product of its time—equal parts ludicrous and lovable—but I think holds up pretty well (if you consider the context and keep an open mind). Depending on your childhood, your inner child may still get a kick out of it.

THE BIG HIT lou diamond phillips
Lou Diamond Phillips would always reenact scenes from YOUNG GUNS II on set even though a) he didn’t have a real gun, and b) nobody asked him to.

China Chow in a schoolgirl uniform and plenty of tight male asses in the locker room. Something for everybody!

THE BIG HIT scoreBuy the Movie Watch the Movie

Take a shot or drink every time:

  • Mark Wahlberg thinks he’s Chow Yun Fat
  • Mark Wahlberg gets blue balls
  • Mark Wahlberg drinks Maalox
  • Bokeem Woodbine does or says something related to jerking off
  • Gump forgets a word
  • Lou Diamond Phillips doesn’t die

Double shot if:

  • Somebody says “Tracebuster” (Just kidding… unless you want to die from alcohol poisoining.)

Thanks to Randall and Scot for suggesting this week’s movie!

Seen a movie that should be featured on this column? Shoot Jason an email and give him an excuse to drink.


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