Monday, August 3, 2015

Hit Me (1996) Tacoma Noir

(SLWB - March 01, 2015)

Hit Me (1996) Director: Steven Shainberg, Writers: Denis Johnson, Jim Thompson (novel). Cinematography was by Mark J. Gordon, Music by Peter Manning Robinson

A guilty pleasure it stars: Elias Koteas (The Killer Inside Me (2010), ), Laure Marsac, Jay Leggett, William H. Macy (Homicide (1991), Fargo (1996), The Cooler (2003)), Philip Baker Hall (Zabriskie Point (1970), Hard Eight (1996)), Kevin J. O'Connor, and Bruce Ramsay. 

I had been on a Jim Thompson adaptation kick when I wrote the original review, both novels and film adaptations. This film captures his small time fucked up loser desperation universe perfectly. Though honestly, I didn't know at the time how close to the book A Swell Looking Dame, it was. I have since found out that in the novel Sonny was living with his invalid father.  In the film it's changed to a developmentally disabled older brother, it works. It's a great Neo Noir and I got a bit of a Blue Velvet Lynch-esque vibe from it, though it was a comparatively low key vibe but, in a good way.

Sonny (Elias Koteas)
Elias Koteas performance as Sonny the goofball night bellhop really shine He is employed at the, once three star, Stillwell Hotel. Sonny stuck in a dead end job is reduced to swiping hotel VHS players and cases of hotel booze to make ends meet. He is supporting, on his own, his mentally challenged older brother Leroy. Sonny occasionally even pimps hookers to lonely businessmen out of hotel rooms.

Stealing a case of vodka
After multiple viewings an elusive fragment of cinematic memory finally "hit me", think of what a good, serious, tragic-comedic Red Skelton performance may have looked like in a film noir, some of Koteas' facial expressions are that dead on, but other comedians like Huntz Hall also come to mind. These connections probably flew over the heads of the then current (1996) film demographic, for most of whom, Skelton and Hall are archaic non entities.  But Koteas goes even further creating his own believable lunatic of a character who constantly talks to himself and habitually is physically psyching himself for various tasks by acting out and letting fly with compulsive manic gestures.

Sonny psyching himself up
Laure Marsac as Monique Roux simmers delectably, a soiled dove-ish French Canadian grifter/hostess/hooker, the femme fatale of the film. The seemingly incessant Tacoma rains depresses her character to the point of despair. Marsac ranges all the way from waifish crumbling beauty, to sloe eyed temptress, and finally boils as a deadly Diana in an explosive chase sequence set in the streets of a deserted warehouse district. Her sole life quest focusing her character, seems to be to get to "Gay Paree" any way she can by any low life means possible. She carries an Eiffel Tower tchotchke that lights up and plays her leitmotif. It acts as a sort of dream navigation beacon to mother ship Paris. She's fun to watch.

Marsac as seductress Monique
Jay Leggett plays Sonny's childlike dependent older brother Leroy, practically homebound in a "crazy house" dwelling strewn with food containers & decorated with discarded toys glued to every surface. He is way over weight, but a good natured human Muppet who tells Sonny that he wants to go to Foster Care because there he can eat all the ice cream he wants.

Sonny and Leroy in their Crazy House

Leroy (Jay Leggett)
Kevin J. O'Connor is Cougar, a harelip scarred, sadistic thug of a  loan shark who has recently become the hotel security man, Bruce Ramsay is Del a former bellhop buddy of Sonny who has hit the big time. He connives Sonny into a plan to rob a high stakes illegal poker game.

Sonny and Cougar (Kevin J. O'Connor)

Del (Bruce Ramsay)

Hotel owner Peter Stillwell (Arthur Senzy) and Cougar
Lenny Ish (Philip Baker Hall)
Philip Baker Hall is great as Lenny Ish, the hotel's biggest client and the local mobster who grouses that he used to live in "a five star country".

Sonny and Cop J. C. Quinn (William H. Macy)

William H. Macy unexpectedly shows up in a great little cameo as a homicide detective. J. C. Quinn and Haing S. Ngor play Sonny's fellow night shift employees.

The studio sets capture the cheapo 2-3 star hotel world, and a nice opening montage shows Sonny schlepping through his various dead end bellhop job duties in the bowels of hotel housekeeping, accompanied by a plucky melody that becomes Sonny's leitmotif. Later when Sonny & Monique make love their two leitmotifs combine into a nice score by Peter Manning Robinson.

Of course, being a Neo Noir everything goes terribly wrong for ridiculously simple reasons, in this case a change of diet sends all well laid plans into a death spiral to Noirsville.


Never murder the help

You get a bellhop's cut

The film leaves Sonny and Leroy setting off on a trip to Nowheresville, sitting in their rusty, trusty beater Chevy, orbiting the edge of the Twilight Zone in the universe of lost dreams. 9/10

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