The basis for DIARY OF A HITMAN was a stage drama called Insider's Price, by Kenneth Pressman, and although the playwright adapted his own work for the screen the film's theatrical origins are painfully clear.
The introspective hit man is Dekker (Forest Whitaker), a veteran assassin-for-hire who's tried but largely failed to remain indifferent to his profession. Now his eyesight is failing and his weapon arm pains him. With one more hit he'll have enough cash to retire, but the latest contract is
unusually gruesome. A dubiously reformed hood named Zidzyk (Lewis Smith) has accepted Jesus as his savior, and now wants his wife dead (because she knows too much) and their infant child slaughtered with a body part brought back as proof.
Debuting director Roy London, a prominent Hollywood acting coach, keeps the first act moving with restless energy and the anti-hero's neuroses-ridden daily routine, as he attempts to put off his deadly errand for as long as he can. But the picture takes a real nosedive in the long, single-set
segment when Dekker finally faces his target, Jain (Sherilyn Fenn). She's a dipsy child-woman who reacts to her impending doom with a sitcomful of hysterical antics: she babbles, does a striptease and recreates a high-school cheerleading routine. Then Dekker's halfhearted attempt to shoot her is
interrupted by a visit from Jain's floozy sister (Sharon Stone in a hideous cameo). One finds oneself wishing that Dekker would pull the trigger already and get the movie over with, but instead he becomes Jain's valiant defender against a second hit man sent by Zidzyk. The born-again creep himself
gets blasted by Dekker in his "true church," a porno parlor, permitting a wholly gratuitous display of sleaze ("He is risen!" Zidzyk exults, masturbating).
For a story that purports to confront lofty moral issues, all DIARY OF A HIT MAN has to say is Murdering People Is Very Bad, a trite theme that hardly gains interest as it crumbles Dekker's already shaky resolve. To London's considerable discredit, the thespians declaim their lines to the farthest
balcony, and the situations and dialogue follow the florid extremes of off-Broadway psychodrama. The redoubtable Forest Whitaker's (BIRD, THE CRYING GAME) strong presence props up this stuff only partway, though he has solid support from Seymour Cassel as the hit man's paternalistic manager, who
buys Dekker an expensive silencer so the noise won't damage the killer's hearing. Fenn (OF MICE AND MEN, RUBY) isn't believable for a single frame, and Jim Belushi chews the scenery as a flamboyant cop.
DIARY OF A HIT MAN played mainly at film festivals before coming to home video, although its Los Angeles run expanded after the picture won the audience prize at the Seventh Annual Santa Barbara Film Festival. It was an independent production, set and shot in Pittsburgh with additional filming in
Sharon, Pennsylvania, and Youngstown, Ohio, for a budget of $2.5 million. (Violence, substance abuse, profanity, nudity, sexual situations, adult situations.)
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