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Hit List, The (1993)
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by Jack Sommersby

"The Underrated Jeff Fahey Comes Through"
4 stars

Not to be easily dismissed.

For the life of me I simply can't understand why that stalwart of an actor Jeff Fahey hasn't hit the big-time and isn't a part of the Hollywood A-list. Ungodly handsome with hypnotic light-blue eyes, he more than takes to the silver screen and registers as a commanding cinematic talent, but all-out fame has inexplicably not come his way thus far. He first made an impression as one of the villainous henchmen in Silverado and a year later impressed even more as the conniving low-rent musician in Psycho III; but it was in the underrated neo-noir 1990 "Impulse" where he played an altruistic district attorney that he came into his own - he was so charismatic and forceful you yielded to and identified with him throughout. That very same year he was impressive as the screenwriter in Clint Eastwood's brilliant White Hunter, Black Heart and two years later brought gravitas to the role of the idiot savant in the unappreciated cautionary fable The Lawnmower Man that would have easily licked three-quarters of actors. And now here he is playing ace Los Angeles-based assassin Charlie Pike (one of his numerous aliases) who's made a lucrative career of killing bad guys he deems as deserving of termination. (In the movie's first sequence we watch him take out a recently-acquitted drug lord by forcing him to swallow a pill to make it look like a heart attack.) Pike is considered the best operator in the field in the country, charging one-hundred-thousand dollars a hit; he lives in a luscious oceanfront two-story apartment in Malibu and has made it a habit of eschewing personal relationships so as to avoid emotional investment - he's all about the job. True, the character is far from original, but Fahey brings to it a steadfast dedication and vivid iciness that envelops us in that we never quite know what makes this guy tick and he'll do when backed into a corner; and all the while Fahey deftly sidesteps stereotype, delivering a three-dimensional portrait that rings true. (As far as I'm concerned it's the best enactment of a hit man since Charles Bronson's career-best turn in the extraordinary The Evil That Men Do from 1984.) To its credit The Hit Man isn't your run-of-the-mill action picture, for Pike is sometimes employed by a cabal of high-priced defense lawyers who professionally get their guilty-as-hell clients off yet engage Pike to do away with them thereafter under the auspice of "facilitation of retribution" - Pike is essentially functioning as their suppressed Id.

But a change of pace comes Pike's way when he's hired by a friend of his boss, Peter Mayhew (a solid James Coburn), to do away with those threatening the daughter of a friend of his, Jordan Henning (the lovely Yancey Butler), whose dead husband's former business partner and her husband were in cahoots in selling arms to foreign countries. She thinks he's out to do away with her and wants to do away with him before he can succeed. Pike initially refuses because by principle he doesn't partake in "personal" business, but he changes his mind in thinking his target a scumbag, which winds up triggering a slew of consequences that start putting his previously-insulated life in jeopardy. Pike easily does away with the partner but afterwards, and implausibly, refuses payment from her, becomes romantically involved in her, and even goes so far as inviting her to the location of his secretive penthouse abode, and just for the sole sake of the story progressing. Thankfully the execution of the material is considerably better than its contextual value. This is director William Webb's follow-up to his not-uninteresting serial-killer tale The Banker, and he's much more confident in dexterously moving the camera around and framing his shots a lot more expressively; he gives the impression of having an absolute ball here, going so far as to employing the color red when, one, a glass of wine is spilled on a newspaper on a dining-room table where that drug lord was killed, and, two, that glowing color reflected off Pike's gun-hand when he shoots an assailant. By and large, the plot of The Hit Man won't stand up to the utmost scrutiny, but it's fairly enjoyable for what it is, and there's never a moment when you want less of it aside from desiring more in the way of coherence as part of the overall whole so the logical loopholes don't stick out so darn much, with them as it is disposably superfluous. But luckily the always-welcome Fahey is around to save the day, once again lending solidity and believability to a B-movie it doesn't really deserve; he lends it a human dimension the movie doesn't fully know what to do with to keep up with this virtuoso's many strengths. He's quite truly the "bee's knees" as far as these things go.

Worth taking a chance on.

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originally posted: 11/23/20 12:02:33
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  17-Jan-1993 (R)



Directed by
  William Webb

Written by
  Reed Steiner

  Jeff Fahey
  Yancey Butler
  James Coburn
  Michael Beach
  Jeff Kober

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