All the girl wanted was for her boyfriend to take her down to the record store and buy her some vinyl. That’s all. But unfortunately he wanted to score some smack and since the girl hadn’t really ever had heroin injected straight into her bloodstream, her first time will be her last time. The bad news for the guy that sold the young man those drugs is that the girl’s father is Agent Nick Allen (Billy Dee Williams) and he’s not happy. Just ask this guys face. Nick was gonna kill this guy and just go on about his business, but this drug dealer pointed out, and rightfully so, that killing a lowly worker bee solves nothing. You gotta cut off the head of the snake if you want to kill the snake. And so Agent Allen, who is now a Man on Fire… just look at the box cover… sets about assembling his team to cut off the head of the snake in director Sidney J. Furie’s 1973 action thriller ‘Hit!’ an overly long, slow moving, but ultimately interesting film thanks to some fine performances turned in by a fine cast of actors.
Allen’s handlers at whatever agency he works for are sympathetic to his tragedy, and are even willing to help him take down a few local pushers, but when Nick tells them of his plan to go to the top, the top being in France…. Waitaminute… France? Seriously? Well, I guess Columbia hadn’t come into the picture yet so I guess why not France? But something about France just doesn’t ring Drug Kingpins to me. Regardless, his boss tells him to stand down, Nick tells him to f-off and sets about assembling his somewhat eclectic hit squad.
First on board is his boy Dutch (the late Warren J. Kemmerling), a master of surveillance with a hair trigger temper. About their first meeting, I didn’t know they had product placement like this back in 1973 since all Dutch could talk about was how great McDonalds was. Regardless, Nick sends Dutch to Marseille to gather the necessary recon.
Next on board is Sherry the hot Crack Whore (the late Gwen Welles). I’m not completely sure why Sherry is on the team, other than the fact she’s fluent in French, but there she is. I’m guessing Nick has her on the squad because he can control her with heroin, and after spending some time with Nick Allen, we’ve learned he’s nothing if not a total and complete bastard.
Next Nick cajoles mechanical guy and harpoon marksman Mike Wilmer (the late Richard Pryor) to be on his team and we doubt very seriously that any lines that Sir Richard was given he actually read since he seemed to be doing his own thing in this movie, and doing it well. Rounding things out we have Barry the sharp shooter (Paul Hamilton), the old married couple of Ida (the late Janet Brandt) and Herman (the late Sid Melton) who have some kind of shady past behind them, hell if we know what it is. After watching them in action later on, it seems to have something to with blowing people away.
With the team in place, they train. And they train some more. And they train. The team thinks they are working for Uncle Sam, but Nick has lied to them. Eventually they will discover the truth and want to abandon the mission, but Nick will use his mutant skills of Assholery to get them back on the Nick Plan.
Eventually they make it France and enact the plan, and after watching this somewhat simple plan get executed, if anybody ever over trained for anything, it’s these guys. For real.
‘Hit!’ is a bit of a conundrum, Sidney J. Furie, still making movies of suspect quality to this very day, even as he quickly approaches the age of eighty, has created a film at well over two hour long which is tedious, and patience trying. Mr. Furie’s last movie before he went on to this one was ‘Lady Sings the Blues’ which was also overly long and little tedious but Mr. Furie’s tendency to have his camera linger too long in one spot is a little less tedious when one is listening to Billie Holliday in the background. We didn’t have that here. I mean Lalo Schifrin’s score was cool and all, but there’s only so much of French people enjoying themselves that we can tolerate. Plus the plan they were training for was complete and total lunacy, built on circumstance and coincidences that no amount of planning could ever factor in and have work out right, but hey… it’s just a movie, right?
But while ‘Hit!’ certainly moves slow and takes it damn sweet time in going almost nowhere, it’s the characters that bring this movie up. I’d be willing to say that this is Billy Dee Williams finest performance as Nick Allen the anti-hero. The guy is a total asshole, and he doesn’t hide or conceal it, and with Nick Allen, Williams has created a three dimensional character who’s good natured, charming, lethal, evil, a user and willing to do anything as a means to his ends. Nick is hard to root for because he is such a bastard, but Billy Dee is magnetic in the role.
All of the actors on the Hit Team were very good and they are the ones that keep us watching the movie, with Richard Pryor setting himself apart, as he often tended to do in his supporting roles. A friend of mine pointed out that while Richard Pryor’s star vehicles often left much to be desired, to be kind, but Richard Pryor the supporting actor? Easily one of the best ever.
So ‘Hit!’ is kind of a terrible action movie, not much of a thriller, and has a narrative that is built upon a shaky house of cards that would collapse with the slightest bit of deconstruction, but characters make this movie go and kept us entertained. Still probably could’ve shaved a half hour off this thing though.