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Hit List Reviews

Mafia hits, grand jury hearings, and the exigencies of witness protection form the basis of this above-average crime thriller. As the movie opens, two FBI agents bust up a funeral at which some mob members have hidden drugs inside the corpse of a priest. Spiriting away lowlifes Gravenstein (Ken Lerner) and DeSalvo (Leo Rossi), the federal agents, Tom Mitchum (Charles Napier) and Jared Riley (Jere Burns), launch plans for the two crooks to testify against Vic Luca (Rip Torn), a slimy underworld kingpin. Although he informs reporters that he is merely a harassed businessman, Luca is secretly planning to eliminate any potential witnesses to his illegal activities. For added protection, he instructs his lawyer to buy off the judge. For the present, Chris Caleek (Lance Henriksen), a part-time shoe clerk and part-time hit man, accepts Luca's offer to rub out Gravenstein, who's being held in a prison facility. That night, Caleek sneaks into the hoosegow, slays several guards, and prevents Gravenstein from testifying--permanently. The other potential witness, DeSalvo, and his son are being guarded by Mitchum and Riley in a suburban house across the street from the home of Jack Collins (Jan-Michael Vincent), his wife Sandi (Harriet Hall), and son Kenny (Junior Richard). While DeSalvo is being grilled and steadfastly refuses to cooperate, the Collinses are enjoying a barbecue with Brian (Harold Sylvester), a family friend. Meanwhile, Luca has ordered Caleek to eliminate DeSalvo and has given him the address. Unfortunately, when Jack leaves on an errand, Brian slams the front door so hard that the final nine in the address is shaken loose from its nail and changes into a six. Accordingly, instead of stalking the house where DeSalvo is sequestered, Caleek enters the Collins home. After knocking out Sandi, the hit man gets into a knock-down-drag-out fight with Brian and shoots him. Caleek then grabs young Kenny in the mistaken belief that he's kidnaping DeSalvo's kid (thereby ensuring that DeSalvo won't testify before the grand jury). When Jack returns and discovers his wife unconscious and his son missing, he is understandably miffed. But he becomes even more furious when the FBI decides to perpetuate the illusion that it is DeSalvo's son who has been nabbed. Learning DeSalvo's whereabouts, Jack sneaks off to the hideaway and springs the prize witness. Although Jack wants to be led to his son immediately, DeSalvo gets him to cool down; however, DeSalvo becomes equally enraged when he learns that his own father has been killed by Luca's thugs. When DeSalvo and Jack are spotted by two of Luca's men, they become embroiled in a shootout that builds to a climax in a nightclub. After obtaining vital information from a wounded thug (whom DeSalvo subsequently kills), DeSalvo and Jack set off to nab Caleek, who cleverly leads them into a trap, from which they are rescued by the FBI. Finally, DeSalvo agrees to testify if the authorities release Jack, who immediately pursues Caleek. After the grand jury, influenced by the judge, dismisses the charges against Luca, DeSalvo rushes off to team up with Jack. Together, they finally manage to kill the elusive Caleek. Disgusted with the legal system (and taking into account his own terminal illness), Federal Agent Mitchum turns vigilante and blasts Luca outside the court building. Competently directed, HIT LIST is a Feds vs. the Mafia adventure with enough professional gloss to lift it out of the ordinary. Boasting expert second-unit work, HIT LIST is crammed with enough edge-of-seat car chases and assassination gambits to satisfy hardcore action fans. The film's problem lies in its script, which is more ambitious than those of most action movies, yet fails to develop the potential of its best ideas. A parallel is drawn between the reprobate DeSalvo's love for his kid and good citizen Jack's feelings for his son. Lending additional depth to the standard cops-and-robbers formula, this intriguing comparison transforms the film into an offbeat buddy movie. But there are too many different plot strands and not enough time is available to allow a substantial relationship to develop between DeSalvo and Jack. As a result their unusual relationship becomes an interesting sidebar rather than the core of the film. Other plot details are left dangling. When the judge blows the case with a prejudicial statement, it is left to the viewer to make the less-than-clear connection between this action and Luca's original plan to bribe the judge. Moreover, the key courtroom scenes are weakened by the director's failure to cross-cut pointedly between Jack's mission and DeSalvo's attempts to drag out the proceedings. As scripted, the climax is mired in a static Perry-Mason-Revisited treatment. At this point, the film leaves all logic behind and careens out of control, presenting Caleek as an unstoppable, HALLOWEEN-style killer. With its interest in male bonding and father-son relationships, HIT LIST could have been engrossing without resorting to this kind of annoying manipulation. Yet for all its failure to follow through, HIT LIST rates high on the excitement scale. Several polished performances bring some meaty characters to life: most notably Rossi's complex dishonorable criminal/honorable father and Napier's dying fed, who's driven to ignore the law he's dedicated himself to upholding. Are the FBI's methods that dissimilar from the mob's? HIT LIST serves up slam-bang entertainment with more than enough zest to compensate for its shortcomings. (Violence, profanity, drugs, adult situations.)