31 Days of Action: Day 17 - The Hit List

There was absolutely no way I was going to get through this whole marathon without at least briefly dabbling into the world of Cuba Gooding Jr.’s late game career shift into the world of direct to DVD action films. I wasn’t even aware of how many he has done before I started looking through the list for one to watch and they all have similar names and plot descriptions to the point where I was wondering if it was all an elaborate mind fuck and he actually just releases the same movie twice each year.  I eventually settled on the generically titled “The Hit List” as the premise sounded unique compared to the other choices.

Holy shit what do you know, this one is not bad at all!

The Hit List stars Cole Hauser as Allan, a guy coming off of a very shitty day. He was passed over for a promotion that he was sure he had in the bag but instead it was handed to a co-worker who stole his idea. He then comes home to find out that his wife is sleeping with his best friend. As any of us would do, he heads to the bar to get completely shit faced. It’s there he meets Jonas (Gooding Jr.), who he swaps some drunken stories with. Jonas reveals that he is actually a hit man and naturally Allan doesn’t believe him. Jonas asks him to write down the names of five people he would want killed and Allan does so, figuring they’re just fucking around. He is then quite surprised when he comes into work the following morning and discovers that #5 on his list, the boss that passed him over for the promotion, has been killed. Oooooo shit, maybe Gooding Jr. wasn’t fucking around after all. Now Allan has to get out there and stop him before he starts making his way through the rest of the list.

As I said, it’s a pretty unique idea for a movie and the first act is quite good. The movie does kick off though with a strange animated credit sequence that looks like a low rent James Bond opening. It made me laugh (not its intention I’m sure) out of sheer surprise but its inclusion is bizarre as it insinuates the movie will be goofy and light hearted but in actuality it’s quite down beat and takes itself very seriously. Maybe they had a little money left in the budget to burn so they decided what the hell.

Cuba Gooding Jr. definitely has one of the stranger career paths I can think of. He appeared in a bunch of quality films during his earlier career like A Few Good Men, Outbreak and then of course Jerry Maguire. After his Oscar win for Maguire, he appeared in a few more decent movies and then one day apparently woke up, called his agent and said “I only want to appear in complete garbage from now! Make it happen!” That’s when we started to get Snow Dogs, Boat Trip and Radio. It wasn’t long after that they he started dealing almost exclusively in direct to DVD action fare, only occasionally popping up in a theatrical release. On one hand you can’t help but feel a little bad about where this guy ended up considering where he started. On the flip side, anyone who feels Daddy Day Camp is a product the world needs to see perhaps deserves some form of punishment.

I can’t honestly tell if Gooding Jr. puts in a good performance here. Either he’s doing a terrific job at portraying a hitman who has no human emotions left and is just a killing machine, or he’s completely bored out of his mind and not really trying to act at all. I’m leaning towards the former but there are definitely a few points where it’s tricky to tell. He also goes a little far into the realm of borderline comical during the movie’s ridiculous final act. So in conclusion, I think he’s good here but I’m not positive. Cole Hauser there isn’t much to say about – bland but passable and does a convincing job showing just how fucked up this guy’s situation is.

The first half of the movie is definitely the strongest as you watch the situation escalate. I will also give this one credit because I was positive most of the movie would have Allan trying to clear his name with the cops as they would naturally assume he was responsible for all of this. However they actually piece together pretty early that Allan isn’t directly responsible, though Jonas doesn’t really make an effort to be hidden. Finding out his motivations and why he is so determined to see this through despite Allan repeatedly telling him to cut this shit out is the most interesting part of the movie.

The second half things get pretty ridiculous though as Jonas turns into an unstoppable force of death, massacring dozens of people in a police station without any resistance. I’m all for a good shoot out and this one is decent but it was all so ludicrous that it was hard to focus on anything but that. On top of that you throw in Jonas’ near constant cries of “Allan! You can’t hide Allan! Allan! Allan!” and the whole sequence feels like a comic book movie and just like those opening credits, it doesn’t fit with the tone that the rest of the movie has taken on.

The Hit List is one of those movies where the idea is so strong you can’t help but wish that a better film had been built around it. There’s a great opportunity here for a solid thriller and this movie occasionally comes close to reaching that potential, but it falters too often, especially in its ridiculous conclusion. Still, it’s a surprisingly solid way to spend 90 minutes and has me intrigued just enough to maybe see what else our friend Mr. Gooding Jr. has been up to these last few years.