I'm not trying to be a hero! I'M FIGHTING THE DRAGON!!

Hit!

tn_hitSee, this is the type of gold I’m always digging for. This is why I keep browsing and renting weird old movies I don’t know much about. I’m trying to find a movie like HIT!. Last time I rented a Billy Dee Williams movie it was AGENT 00-SOUL, which I’d wanted to see for years only to discover it’s not a serious movie, it’s a “comedy” where he just keeps tripping on things and falling out of things. It makes the worst Leslie Nielsen movie look like the Coen Brothers.

But HIT! is not only a serious movie, it’s revenge-meets-arthouse, almost like POINT BLANK. It’s an ambiguous, slow-burn revenge movie with great performances and character moments and a creepy Lalo Schifrin score. There’s more care put into the buildup and the little moments than into the action movie parts, but they’re good enough for that to be a fair trade.

In the beginning a teenage girl dies from a heroin overdose. Billy Dee plays her father, some kind of CIA agent. He doesn’t talk until 15 minutes into the movie. Before that he just smolders. His boss tries to help him out, tries to send him on a vacation. But he wants to go after the source – not the street pushers, but the top of the pyramid, some guys in Marseille who run a heroin cartel. Of course the agency tells him not to, and of course he does it anyway.

mp_hitHe must still have access to some great databases, because he figures out exactly the people he needs and can get to help. For the next section of the movie he goes around recruiting his team, mostly strangers, but people who have both expertise and a button he can push. Some of them have crimes he can use against them, others have reasons they might want revenge too. Richard Pryor, for example, had a wife who was raped and killed by a junkie. Billy Dee tells him he’s taking him for a drink, then drives him out to the prison yard to let him beat on the guy. Then he pulls him off and tells him what he wants to do.

All of these scenes are really dramatic because the movie never tells you what he’s up to, you have to wait and see. And once the team is assembled he brings them up to an abandoned town in Vancouver BC to practice. Again, we don’t really know what the plan is exactly, but they’re all going through drills and struggling to get their times down. This isn’t the usual team of badasses – he’s got an older couple (Sid Melton and Janet Brandt) recruited from a ferry in Seattle, ex-cons with a junkie son who died. They’re having a hard time running as fast as they need to. But he puts on the Billy Dee charm, hugging the lady and convincing her to believe in herself. Other times he puts on the Billy Dee cruelty – he can be completely ruthless when he needs to. But somehow you love him again the next time he smiles.

Throughout the movie it keeps cutting to the targets in Marseille – fat, rich white dudes eating caviar, lounging on yachts with young beauties, complaining about crime in America and how pollution makes their fish taste bad. They don’t seem to know they’re the bad guys. They’re just the assholes who live off other people’s misery and don’t care.

There’s a great sequence before the team goes through with their plan where each of them has what they know might be their last night alive. There’s a reoccurring joke about one of the characters loving hamburgers, so we see him in a French restaurant eating something like a hamburger and giving a “not bad” eyebrow raise. It’s a funny moment but then the camera stays on him as he just sits there thinking for a little bit, and you can imagine some of the things he might be thinking about.

There are a few things I won’t get into that sort of break the rules of thrillers in arguably a bad way. And for the life of me I can’t figure out what the last line of the movie is – I kept rewinding it but couldn’t figure out what he said. But I think this is a truly great movie, mainly because of all the great character moments. Richard Pryor is just one of the ensemble but it’s up there with BLUE COLLAR as one of his great movie roles because he gets to win people over with his humor but also be a troubled guy. He’s not just a wisecracking sidekick. He says funny things, but the only time he really starts mugging is when he’s trying to distract Sherry from the fact that she just killed someone. At first he seems skeptical of Billy Dee, but he becomes his strongest supporter, even giving him good advice.

supergolpeThey all really bond over this thing, unlikely friends. The camaraderie is a big part of what I love about this movie. It’s almost like a sports movie with Billy Dee as the tough love coach.

The acting is all great. There are two women who have especially great scenes with Billy Dee. In the first one he has to get information from a young woman (who looks a little bit like Michelle Obama) whose heart he obviously broke recently, and she doesn’t want him to get off easy. She’s so naturalistic you gotta wonder  if he really went out with her and then pissed her off. I don’t know if Billy Dee is a method actor or not. Then there’s his first scene with Sherry (Gwen Welles), a high class call girl he pays $200 just to talk. She seems so smitten with him it’s kind of charming, and then sad when he starts coldly revealing what he knows about her drug addiction, sort of blackmailing her.

But the best part of the movie is Billy Dee Williams himself. He’s a complicated character – suave and charismatic, but also scary. He’s so intense in those first 15 minutes, and such a bastard when it helps him get what he needs, but he also smiles and laughs more than most movie heroes do. During a car chase you can see him smiling when he gets the other driver where he wants him. When he gets his old cop friend to beat up a drug suspect he sits across the street grinning wide and cracking himself up. Even when he himself seems to be cornered by some of his fellow federal agents who might want to kill him he starts laughing, and not as a trick – it’s just his personality. “Ha ha, you got me.”

HIT! was in the blaxploitation section at the video store, and the “Supergolpe” poster above (which I’m guessing is HIT! based on Billy Dee having a bazooka and a guy who must be Richard Pryor having flippers) was in the blaxploitation movie poster book What It Is… What It Was! The Black Film Explosion of the ’70s In Words And Pictures. But it’s not really in the same genre as what we usually call blaxploitation. I don’t mean that in the “this is something better” kind of way people always say when they don’t understand the “xploitation” part of the word, it’s just not the same type of story, and after the first few scenes Billy Dee is the only black guy in the movie. The director is the excellently named Sidney J. Furie, director of LADY SINGS THE BLUES, THE IPCRESS FILE, 3/4 of the IRON EAGLE quadrilogy, and a recent Dolph Lundgren DTV that I haven’t seen yet. And I’ll have to watch his TAKING OF BEVERLY HILLS now, I know one of you recommended it in the comments somewhere.

Unfortunately, HIT! is only on VHS so far. We really need a DVD, not just so everybody can see it but because the transfer on the VHS is completely washed out for the last couple reels. (I hope that’s not related to why it’s not on DVD.)

I feel like Indiana Jones on this one. This is my best discovery in a long time. Check it out if you can.

UPDATE: due to the positive vibes this review sent out into the world HIT! has since come out on the blu-ray and dvd type discs. The last reels look fine. Still has the same badass/inaccurate cover from the VHS, too.

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.

This entry was posted on Monday, June 8th, 2009 at 12:21 am and is filed under Action, Reviews, Thriller. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

28 Responses to “Hit!”

  1. Sounds like a real gem! I must find a way to see this.

  2. Vern, you had me until Sidney J. Furie. His A FRIDAY NIGHT DATE a.k.a. ROAD RAGE starring Casper Van Dien may actually be the worst film I”ve ever seen.

  3. Dan Prestwich – Don’t forget Furie’s shiterpiece SUPERMAN IV: THE QUEST FOR PEACE.

  4. Yeah, I think Furie is that Anti-Richard Donner. His bad movies outweigh the good ones by far. Although I got a soft spot for ‘Hollow Point’, mostly because of Donald Sutherland and John Lithgow. But I haven’t watched it for years, so it’s possible that it sucks.

  5. Wasn’t Furie also the one who also shot that cheap exploitive ghost rape movie?

  6. Furie also directed the grossly underrated Rodney Dangerfield flick, Ladybugs.

  7. I’ve seen Ladybugs. It is not underrated.

  8. Recently saw Direct Action, a Lundgren cop piece he directed, where he made a great deal out of a miniscule budget, while he gets a thanks on Lundgren’s directorial debut, since apparently Furie was supposed to direct The Defender but his advancing years got to him. I know I’ve mentioned The Taking of Beverly Hills before to people, it ain’t great but it’s watchable. This is the fourth time in three weeks I’ve seen somebody mention Hollow Point, so I’m going to have to find that, but Hit! sounds like essential viewing – and still VHS only…! Thanks for the review Vern.

  9. A U.K. site, lovefilm.com, have this available but only as a digital download, for about £2.50. Will be watching this one tonight.

  10. The Taking of Beverly Hills is like the PG version of Ford Fairlane.

  11. Lawrence – You mean it fucks Clint Eastwood less? :)

  12. It just “screws”, “humps” or even “hugs” or [loud noise] him

  13. SUPERGOLPE = SUPERHIT. I’m not a fan of Family Guy, but this reminds me of when they turn a pillow over and there’s Billy Dee’s face saying “Welcome To The Cool Side Of The Pillow”·

  14. Furie may have a resume with some real shit on it, but you can’t deny THE IPCRESS FILE a spot as one of the top spy movies. Great jazzy score (John Barry, I believe), great Michael Caine performance as a put-upon spy whose bosses could care less if he survives his missions. Designed to be the anti-James Bond. Vern, if you haven’t seen it, you should give it a review. Second only to GET CARTER in Caine’s oeuvre.

  15. The Taking of Beverly Hills does have Matt Frewer going for it. Man that guy really tries hard for the sake of some crappy movies… On an even further digression, Hollow Point is actually pretty good.
    How that poster of Billy Dee sporting a pimp ass suit accessorized with a goddamn Bazooka failed to become as popular as anything from Scarface is beyond me.

  16. Nice review. It’s kind of spooky how many films are going to be washed out through time because for some reason they’re not making the leap onto DVD.

  17. sucks that this movie isn’t on dvd, I was about to add this to my netflix queue

  18. I have to say, its kind of too bad the fat rich white guys on the boat are heroine dealers. I think its a cool idea to have these big wig crackers who don’t even think about the fact that they are the comic book villains to the little guys they’re stepping on. But its kind of a shame to just make em drug lords, since that kind of sets them apart from a lot of guys who are also ruining lives every day, but not doing anything so flagrantly illegal. I think it would be cooler to have them be CEOs or politicians, who are wrecking people’s lives every day without even thinking about it. A very interesting idea, all the same. I’d love to see this thing (anyone want to rip a digital copy and stream it on mininova?)

  19. oops, put in the wrong email on that one, so no avatar. its me, though.

  20. Finally got around to watching this one, and it’s as awesome as Vern says. It takes its time to get where it’s going but the cast is fun to hang out with so it’s worth the slow pace. And I would like to give Richard Pryor the award for Best Wise-Cracking Black Comic Relief Character Of All Time. Pretty much every word he said was obviously adlibbed and totally hilarious, but never detracted from the drama or seemed out of character. It continues to be a real shame that he never got to do more dramas because had such a believability to him. He wasn’t funny in a “Look at me, I’m being funny!” way, but like he just couldn’t help it. He really brought a lot of life to this movie.

    Also, he sang this sea shanty:

    There’s probably some weird bitches here.
    There’s probably some weird bitches here.
    There’s probably some Eskimos
    And all they’ll do is suck your toes.
    There’s probably some weird bitches here.

    Genius.

  21. This one has been on my to do list since first reading this review, and now that it is available on Blu I finally got to check it out. This is an excellent men on a mission thriller, there is not much action in it till the extremely satisfying climax, but the performances and clever structure of the narrative are great and help build to all the action in the finale. Billy D is one ice cold mutha fucka in this film. It is his best performance and his charter is so suave yet dark and complex that he is equally charming and menacing. For example, when he is recruiting the team for the job he often uses his charm to get his foot in the door and get the recruit listening, but ultimately he either threatens or manipulates them into doing what he wants. I also really enjoyed how the film never let the audience now what their mission and plan was till the climax when we see it executed. (SPOILERS, SPOILERS, SPOILERS) There is a great scene in the finale where they are just starting to execute their plan and little old Jewish lady on the team is in a room with one of the targets and you are not sure what she is going to do or why she is even there and suddenly she pulls out a knife and shanks the target. It is great cinema and completely badass.

    PS: In rereading this review I was reminded that even on the Blu-ray I couldn’t make out the last line of the film.

  22. One of my friends who I got to watch this on the VHS said that because it’s such a slow burn he was halfway into it or something and thinking he was gonna have to tell me it didn’t do it for him, then by the end he was in love with it. I’m so glad it’s available so I can get more people to watch it.

    Also I’m kinda glad they kept the ridiculous cover where he’s holding a bazooka. Not really representative of the movie, but cool.

  23. The film really does have a great slow burn to it, but that is what makes the scenes like the one I mentioned with the little old Jewish lady so effective. The slow burn makes the pay off in the end that much more rewarding.

    This movie is so good it makes me wonder why it was not a bigger hit when it was released. I would bet race played a big part in it. I doubt in 1973 white America was ready for a black action hero that was presented seriously and never portrayed as a fool or some sort of racial stereo type. In this film Billy Dee is not only suave & badass but he is also always the smartest guy in the room.

  24. Vern, have you seen DARK OF THE SUN? It is another great men on a mission film that time seems to have forgotten. It is available from Warner Brothers direct DVD service.

  25. It’s also on TCM a lot. Great movie with some really good, violent action scenes.

  26. DARK OF THE SUN is very grim and shockingly violent when you consider it was made in 1968. It also has very progressive racial politics for the time, and the chainsaw duel is awesome.

    It is cool to hear that TCM runs DOTS regularly. I have not had cable in a while, but it sounds like TCM has really started to show more great exploitation & genre films.

  27. It is also worth mentioning that DARK OF THE SUN has an epic movie poster (it is also the DVD cover).

    http://www.movieposter.com/poster/MPW-52981/Dark_of_the_Sun.html

    How could you not want to see the film after viewing that poster?

  28. Get Carter, The Dark of the Sun, Dirty Harry, Point Blank…TCM rocks!

Leave a Reply





XHTML: You can use: <a href="" title=""> <img src=""> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <b> <i> <strike> <em> <strong>