Cuba Gooding, Jr. has made a nice little career for himself in the non-theatrical release realm and has become the most commercially successful Academy Award-winning direct-to-DVD actor in the business. I’d assume, anyway. And while some might be content with writing the actor and his performances off because he’s not exactly lighting up the big screen, I’m not. It’s all art after all and should be critiqued as any other. To give a sense of where this is headed, though, The Hit List is more Piss Jesus than Mona Lisa.
Cole Hauser plays Allan Campbell, a down-and-out businessman, a self-proclaimed human punching bag. He hates his life, despite the fact that he has a seemingly stable job and his wife is shit-hot. Things aren’t going his way, you see, because he gets passed over for a sure-thing promotion and then on his way home from work, distraught and frustrated, Allan finds his wife, in what he assumes is a post-coital glow, with his best friend. And if all that wasn’t enough, he receives a threatening phone call from a loan shark whom he borrowed money from.
So he drinks, this sad sack. He drowns his sorrows in Jack Daniels, straight up, the liquor that frat guys pound after an especially hard trig exam before they discover things like scotch or Irish whiskey. At the bar, he meets a man, Jonas Arbor, played by the aforementioned Gooding, Jr. Jonas lends a sympathetic ear and hears the trials and tribulations of this man who, as he puts it, is having the worst day ever. Jonas reveals to him that he is a hit man, but Allan, still clear-headed even after half a bottle of the rough stuff, refuses to believe him. To prove it, Jonas asks him to write down five names, five names of the people that Allan would want killed in this fun little hypothetical. He works backwards, number one being the top priority.
#5 – Fred Gates, Allan’s boss and the man who passed him up for the promotion.
#4 – Brian Felzner, a co-worker of Allan’s and the man who got the promotion.
#3 – Dom Estacado, the loan shark breathing down Allan’s neck.
#2 – Mike Dodd, Allan’s best friend and the man who supposedly slept with his wife.
#1 – Sydney Campbell, his beautiful slut wife.
Allan goes to the bathroom, laughing off this silly bar game with his new friend, and when he returns, Jonas is gone. Too drunk to drive, Allan sleeps in his car, and when he arrives at work, he finds the office all abuzz with the news that their boss, Fred Gates, was murdered in the night. That hit list wasn’t some hypothetical, he thinks.
Predictably, Jonas makes his way through the list, bringing collateral damage and inquisitive detectives along for the ride. Allan follows Jonas on his killing spree, simultaneously disgusted, terrified, and sexually invigorated (my interpretation) by the murders, looking for an opportunity to stop Jonas before he reaches his wife. People get shot and run over by cars and turned into living bombs and the entire misadventure culminates in a showdown at the police station where Allan and his wife are kept. Dozens of cops drop like so many bowling pins and Jonas stalks his prey, following a trail of blood to the wounded wife, demanding that Allan be a man and stop him, which he finally does when he uses his bleeding wife as bait and, um, you know what? This movie might be best recapped in a hit list of highlights, in reverse order, naturally:
#5 – The Hit List is effectively a re-imagined guardian angel story. Jonas, realizing that Allan is a defeated, emasculated man, puts a plan into place to help Allan get his groove back. The stakes might seem a little askew, but sometimes, somewhere, I think it’s totally justifiable for dozens of people to die in order to shake a man from his doormat-ness.
#4 – Jonas is a rainbow crusader of sorts. His latest target before he meets Allan, one that he chose on his own, was a religious and political figurehead who spreads anti-gay propaganda via his television program. Think of him as a Palin-Beck hybrid with much more focus.
#3 – PTSD might be the cause of all of this. At the film’s opening, Jonas wakes up from a combat nightmare. Though you never see his face or hear his voice, you would assume that he was involved in some unidentifiable Middle Eastern conflict and, with the dream ending because of what sounds like an IED explosion, one or some of his fellow soldiers perished.
#2 – Murders aside, Allan’s life improves dramatically thanks to Jonas. Before he and his wife even make it to the hospital to ensure their good health, Allan is cleared of any charges. The ordeal has brought him closer to his wife, especially following the confession that she never slept with his best friend (who at the time was being converted into a human explosive by Jonas) but rather wanted him to think she did. You know, to bring them closer. With his marriage back on track, Allan is finally able to make some headway in his career, the death of his boss and office rival all but guaranteeing that promotion. And the money that Allan borrowed from the now-dead loan shark never has to be repaid.
#1 – “I played my part, and all I was left with in the end is this dreaded cough. And they say depleted uranium doesn’t kill.” A mere 15 minutes before the end of the film, the previously healthy Jonas has a brief coughing fit and then drops this narrative bomb on the audience. Jonas has other motivations, it seems. Not only does he want to help Allan find his mojo but he also wants to go out with a bang. Because what else is a terminally ill hit man to do than achieve redemption as Allan’s unlikely mentor, leaving a trail of nameless Seattle police in his wake?