Ads for “Hit List” (selected theaters) promise a Geraldo Rivera-style expose that will put an end to the “lie” that “there is no Mob. . . . The truth will shock you!”
The shocking truth in this slambang actioner turns out to be that there is indeed a Mafia full of strongly accented Italians who pull hits in pizza parlors, pay off cops and are regularly dragged in to testify before grand juries--hardly surprising, except that the metropolis this post-Sicilian Mafia purportedly runs roughshod over is Los Angeles. Now that is a shock!
So maybe director William Lustig (of “Maniac” and “Maniac Cop” fame) couldn’t afford to send his crew to Chicago or New York. All credibility aside--and, believe us, this picture does put all credibility aside--"Hit List” is a surprisingly efficient thriller where it counts, in the stunts and tension departments, with the added benefit of a few welcome quirks around its workmanlike edges.
Trouble brews when an unhinged hit man (Lance Henriksen) is sent by the mob’s loudmouth chieftain (Rip Torn) to rub out an associate (Leo Rossi) who’s due to snitch. Uh-oh: Across the street from the intended victim, a slamming door inadvertently turns the 9 in a house number into a 6--shades of “The ‘burbs"--and the mob’s man ends up kidnaping a boy at the wrong address.
The worried father who takes off in gun-toting search of these two is Jan-Michael Vincent, doing his best (well, maybe not his best ) to approximate the ticked-off stoicism of a Bronson or an Eastwood. If he ends up being a big blank at the movie’s poorly scripted heroic center, Vincent is surrounded on all sides by scenery-chewers--especially Rip Torn, who seems determined to take the hammiest possible route to any line-reading.
The script for “Hit List” (MPAA-rated R) is wildly scattershot, but writers John Goff and Peter Brosnan have come up with their fair share of witticisms amid the senselessness. (We learn that the kidnaper is “so twisted, when he dies, you’ll have to screw him in the ground.”) Lustig’s direction is likewise hit-and-miss--he’s hardly what you’d call an actor’s director yet--but he does keep things bustling all the way to the parking-garage climax, where somebody finally learns a lesson about those no-exit ramp spikes the hard way.