One of the joys of being a film reviewer is that because you get to see so many movies (usually for free), it is inevitable that you'll stumble upon that one long-lost, sadly undiscovered cinematic gem. The kind of film where you go, "Wow, how in the heck did this movie slip through the cracks? And how come I've never heard of it before?"
Unfortunately, 'The Big Hit' is not one of them.
The plot synopsis, according to the back of the Blu-ray box: The "criminal anarchy is hilarious!" when a foursome of full-time hit men (Mark Wahlberg, Lou Diamond Phillips, Bokeem Woodbine and Antonio Sabato, Jr) looking to score extra cash kidnap the boss' goddaughter (China Chow). And when beleaguered wise guy Mel (Wahlberg) is set up to take the fall, "underworld antics and domestic absurdities collide!" for a working weekend no one will soon forget.
If 'The Big Hit' sounds like third-rate Quentin Tarantino, it is. Produced in 1996, it failed to secure a domestic theatrical release until a couple of years later (and a very limited one at that), and it is easy to see why. This is another one of those post-'Pulp Fiction' wannabes that seems utterly taken with its own apparent cleverness, yet its smugness only reeks of desperation. I'm not sure what left me cringing more. Was it all that self-consciously "hip" dialogue? The endless scene-eating by the cast and crew? Or the shameless Hong Kong-lite camera moves courtesy of director Che-Kirk Wong, who apparently thinks that if he distracts us long enough with zippy action scenes, we won't notice that his movie makes no sense?
Despite some big names in its cast, 'The Big Hit' feels like a made-for-cable movie. I like Wahlberg, but here it is clear he was still trying to shake his "I'm not Marky Mark!", pre-'Boogie Nights' image, and that he cared little about story or his character. And just the mere presence of Phillips and Sabato, Jr. screams "Lifetime Movie-of-the-Week!" Even the always-effervescent Christina Applegate as Wahlberg's crazy girlfriend can't elevate scenes so poorly-written scenes that, like the rest of the cast, she speak-screams her lines, as if saying a bad joke loud and fast enough will make it seem funnier than it is. Granted, the otherwise talented cast was left stranded in a muck of endless Tarantino-lite pop culture-riffing and a "zany" plot that quickly collapses under the weight of its own postmodern, arch irony, so I guess there was little they could do to save it.
So I can only imagine, when it comes time for Wahlberg's celebrity roast twenty years from now, that they'll whip out a clip of 'The Big Hit,' and the actor will just shrink down into his seat and shrug. Because all I could think while sitting there dumbfounded as the end credits rolled was, "That's 91 minutes of my life I will never, ever get back." At least Marky Mark got paid.
I'm not exactly sure why Sony Home Entertainment has such a love affair with 'The Big Hit.' Having released the film twice before on DVD (the second a Superbit edition, no less), now it has become one of the earliest Blu-ray titles -- yet I can't fathom why it was released on video in the first place. Maybe it was one of those expensive negative pickups, where the studio needed to make up their loss via home video? (Okay, okay, I'm being snarky). But seriously, this film is not really a visual tour de force, nor is it at all popular even as a cult item, so I'm not sure why the added appeal of high def is going to help sell more copies.
Anyway, Sony has transferred the film in 1080p/MPEG-2 video, and this is what I would call a mediocre high-def presentation. Meaning it looks better than standard definition, but compared to the better high-def material I've seen it feels dated. The source material is in good but not pristine shape. Though there is no extensive print damage or excessive dirt, I did notice a few speckles here and there, as well as a couple of instances of bigger dirt splotches. Colors are also fairly well-saturated and stable but never truly vibrant or eye-popping. Fleshtones also veered somewhat towards the red end of the spectrum. Hardly more impressive is detail, which lacks that genuine sense of depth and three-dimensionality I want and expect with HD. Contrast seems a tad harsh, and the fall-off to black too steep, which gives the transfer a dark, flat cast. Granted, 'The Big Hit' does not look terrible -- in spots it can even look quite good -- but it still rates as average high-def at best.
As with the video, the audio also suffers from a dated feel. Sony has produced another fine uncompressed PCM 5.1 surround track for this one, but it can't overcome the film's uninspired sound design and obvious low budget.
Dynamic range is decent, but it feels flat and lacking in fullness. High end isn't really scratchy or shrill, but it still sounds cheap and canned. There is also little real low-end to speak of -- this sounds like an '80s soundtrack, not one produced at the tail end of the '90s. There are also some weird anomalies that pop up from time to time. Arbitrarily, dialogue will suddenly drop off as a person finishes speaking -- it's as if someone clipped the volume on the last syllable at the end of every section of dialogue. Strange. And surround use is dull and uninspired, with only action sound effects deployed to the rear channels at the most obvious times. Ultimately, I just never felt like the full 360-degree soundfield was truly alive, so I forgot the surrounds were even turned on after a while. The soundtrack to 'The Big Hit' is certainly more than listenable, but hardly memorable.
For once, the fact that Sony didn't port over every last supplement from the DVD to the Blu-ray release didn't bug me, because I really didn't want to know anything more about 'The Big Hit' after watching it.
However, we do get the main supplement from the previous disc, which are two audio commentaries. The first features director Che-Kirk Wong and producer Terence Chang discussing the film's production, with the second track a solo turn by screenwriter Ben Ramsey. Unfortunately, I didn't care much for either, though of course I'm biased 'cause I wasn't that into the film. However, there are frequent gaps of silence on both, so the pace often drags. Plus, Wong doesn't really divulge any truly interesting on-set production antecedents, which seems odd given the all-star cast. You'd think just the fact that the filmmakers were able to gather Wahlberg, Applegate, Elliott Gould and Avery Brooks would alone have given them fodder for an entire 91 minutes. A bit of a yawner, really.
Gone on the Blu-ray version are the deleted scenes from the original DVD release, but as there were only three of them and they weren't that exciting in the first place, I suppose it is no big loss.
Finally, rounding out the package is the usual selection of Sony Blu-ray promos, though no actual trailer for 'The Big Hit.
I can't disguise my complete disregard for 'The Big Hit' -- I thought it was pretty awful. But hey, we all have our likes and dislikes, so if you dig this movie then by all means, jump in. However, the video and audio here seem just a little bit dated to me, and the two audio commentaries are also no great shakes. So unless you just have to own 'The Big Hit' on high-def, you may want to relegate this one to the "Tarantino Rip-off" section of your Netflix rental queue.