Friday, August 19, 2011

Hit Man (1972)

          At first glance, the idea of a blaxploitation remake of Get Carter (1971) sounds great, since the grim Michael Caine picture has all sorts of elements that could transfer easily from working-class England to the American inner city: gangsters, pornographers, violence, and a badass antihero out for revenge. As written and directed by George Armitage, however, Hit Man lacks the single-minded malevolence of Get Carter. (Both pictures were adapted from Ted Lewis’ novel Jack’s Return Home.) Hit Man is a fun movie in sporadic bursts, mostly due to Armitage’s odd little character touches, and it’s watchable overall because of leading man Bernie Casey’s charisma, but the flick is not the slam-bang winner the combination of genre and story should have produced.
          The movie begins when Tyrone Tackett (Casey) arrives in LA for his brother’s funeral and starts asking questions about who whacked his sibling. During the meandering first hour of the movie, Tyrone spends about half his time digging for clues and the other half hanging out with his late brother’s pals and assorted women; it’s like the movie periodically forgets to have a plot as Armitage gets lost in rich blaxploitation textures. This aimless stretch has its distractions, though: Tyrone visits a nature preserve, makes time with groovy ladies, and tussles with bad dudes. All of this is punctuated with choice blaxploitation dialogue, like this heavy line: “Look, man, I don’t know nothin’ about nothin’, and that’s the righteous truth.” There’s also some weirdly amusing stuff involving Tyrone and his late brother’s business partner, likeable used-car salesman Sherwood (Sam Laws). The two share a bizarre drunk scene, with Casey raising his voice like he’s going through puberty; later, Sherwood blows a take of a TV commercial by innocently proclaiming, “And for you prestige motherfuckers, we got . . .”
          The movie gets more mojo in the second half, when vivacious costar Pam Grier becomes prominent and when the revenge story kicks into gear. The dialogue gets juicier, too: “They shot her in the fuckin’ head, but chicks like your bullshit bourgeois daughter can do anything they wanna do, ’cause you got the bread to make it cool, ain’t that right?” That’s the stuff! Casey’s performance is erratic, suggesting he and Armitage couldn’t decide whether to make Tyrone a wronged everyman or a killer waiting for an excuse to open fire, but Casey’s laid-back vibe offers a good counterpoint to the flamboyant narrative. Most of the supporting cast is forgettable, though Grier is as outrageously sexy as usual, Laws is a hoot, and future Magnum P.I. costar Roger E. Mosley is amusing as a hired gun. (Available at

Hit Man: FUNKY

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