Forsythe floats like a yoghurt, stings like a pie.
Hitmen in movies appear notoriously unreliable. Even the slickest professionals are prone to sudden changes of heart, often culminating in the deaths of their former employer or associates. Actors, however, seem to relish the opportunity to play the anti-hero, and do their best to portray the dark side of the characters. Some, like Jean Reno in L?on, paint a portrait of a man who is human, “no women no children”, but inhuman in his total lack of conscience about executing his targets. William Forsythe as the Direct Hit-ing John Hatch echoes the darkness of his part by playing it so understated that in several countries he would be declared clinically dead, and with a throaty, horse delivery that suggested he has smoked more than enough to be considered so in all the others.
The hook is fiendish in its intricacies. John Hatch wants out of the game, but his boss (George Segal) requires two weeks notice, or something along those lines, and orders him to off a local stripper to further the political aims of an ex CIA chief who is campaigning to become a senator. Allegedly, the stripper, Savannah, is blackmailing the propective senator with photos of them in bed together some years ago. Hatch struggles with the patriotism of his job before deciding that Savannah is innocent and that he will protect her from the evil machinations of his employers.
So why would this already trite sounding tale be worth watching? The answer is spread, via the magical movie powers of Pepin and Mehri, over the many characters that grace our screens. Leaving Hatch for a minute, let’s look at the female lead, Savannah. Jo Champa is an actress who had had ups (Don Juan De Marco) and downs (this) in her career, along with a cameo in Walker, Texas Ranger, which is of course neither an up or down, but a sideways. Her portrayal of Savannah sets the tone for the film, in that she’s a stripper* that actually doesn’t strip, making her approximately the worst stripper in the movie. On the other hand it doesn’t take her long to strip away the cold, callous exterior of Hatch and find his true cold, callous interior, and that’s what she grows, in a traditionally short space of time, to love. She even does an adequate job as a spotter at the end of the movie, in a scene that can only be described as “what”.
Forsythe’s John Hatch is a whole other matter. Somehow, he actually manages to connect with the audience despite not really doing or saying much of anything, and wearing a lot of very un-action star clothes. Perhaps it’s that he seems much more like the kind of person that would actually be a hit man than in other films, or perhaps we’re just so glad that his sex scene is very brief, but there is something likeable about Hatch, which is clearly a good thing in any movie.
Much of the film is propped up by the good performances of the supporting cast. Action standby Richard Norton puts his aussie accent to good effect as another agency assassin, whether shooting at Hatch or trying to convince him not to retire (“You turned your target into people. Can’t do that!”). The lovely Juliet Landau has a brief appearance in the film as a rookie assassin, prompting a stand off with Hatch that forms one of the best short scenes in the film. George Segal as head of the agency supplies a suprising subtle performance, and makes a decent part out of what is basically a bit character. The movie’s introduction is reasonably well played as well, focussing on a young assassin preparing for his first hit partnering with the legendary John Hatch. The hit that follows is pretty ludicrous, as if that’s a suprise.
The real money is the climactic hand-over scene. What starts of as an exchange between Sentor Corruptus and Hatch, Savannah’s daughter for incriminating photos, in a construnction site (of course) quickly turns into an amazing slice of Forsythe invunerability, and classic PM action. A phenomenal number of villians appear toting submachine guns, rocket launchers, pistols, pointy sticks, and all manner of mullet-esque hair cuts. Now matter how much lead is thrown through the air at him, Hatch, despite having the physique of a wardrobe, dodges with ease, and reaps his vengeance by detonating various explosives he had previously buried around the site. Presumably after the coach that they’d transported all the villians in on had emptied its contents to go to their sandy graves, George Segal flies in for no appreciable reason in a helicopter and ties up that final loose end (presuming the agency will be taking care of the stack of bodies, and the creamated candidate).
Overall, Direct Hit is a reasonable way of spending 90 minutes, and ranks as one of the better PM movies. Running from the Big Powerful Agency, and then killing a lot of people is a bit of a staple sub-genre, but one I think that often works better in the slightly rubbish world of the b-movie than it does when combined with the polish of a blockbuster.
* And single mum. There was actually a law passed in the US in 1985, after intense pressure by the powerful D.C. erotic dancers lobby, that any leading female character that worked as a stripper must also be a single parent, and that the father of her child be a wifebeater/drunkard/moron/all of the above. True that.
** Amazon have a different DVD than the one I’ve seen.