Direct Hit

Director: Joseph Merhi
William Forsythe, George Segal, Jo Champa

When it comes to watching movies, whether they are to be reviewed for this web site or watched during my leisure time, I tend to watch movies that were made during the last forty years or so. Which I think is to be expected, since the last forty or so years are of my generation, which speaks to me more than any other generation in world history. All the same, I do make a point several times every month to watch movies that are older than I am, which I am able to do thanks to both home video and Turner Classic Movies. Why do I make sure to watch older movies on a regular basis? Several reasons. First, I know that there are a darn good number of older movies that can entertain just as much as modern movies. Second, variety is the spice of life - watching movie after movie made in the same style and environment can get monotonous. A third reason is that older movies can be educational, teaching you what society was like all those decades ago. For example, there was the use of black and white film. Today, black and white is an artistic choice, while back then it was usually a budgetary reason. More interesting is the viewpoint of society and government in older movies. When I watch a Hollywood movie made many decades ago, I am often struck by how positive the viewpoints are of American society and government. I remember watching an old movie - I think it was the James Cagney musical Yankee Doodle Dandy - where the modern day President of the United States (who was then Franklin D. Roosevelt) was viewed with so much respect by the filmmakers that the actor playing the President was photographed from behind by the cameraman. Not seeing the President head on almost made him come across like some sort of supernatural figure.

If you are even only half the movie buff that I am, more likely than not you have come across many movies from the so-called golden age of Hollywood where things like government, religion, and patriotism are treated with nothing less than respect. It's also likely you know the reason why Hollywood filmmakers treated these subjects with such respect all those years ago, that reason being the Motion Picture Production Code that went into effect in the early 1930s. That code, as you probably know, really restricted filmmakers being critical of subjects like government. But I think that another reason why there wasn't much cynicism towards core values in American movies for so long were that people back then were in some ways naive compared to people today. People back then were less educated by various means of bad things that were happening around them. Compare that with today, where the public is informed from television to the Internet about horrible things happening around them - and the American motion picture industry now churning out one cynical movie after another that attack targets ranging from religion to their own government. Of course, this has got a lot of conservative patriots like Michael Medved upset, and these people attack Hollywood for not making movies with the same reverence for God and country as they made years earlier. During the rare times when Hollywood makes a wholesome movie, if it becomes a hit, people like Medved claim it's a sign that the public is hungry for more such movies - somehow forgetting about the many more cynical and/or explicit movies that became hits in the same year.

Don't get me wrong - I think it would be nice if Hollywood made more movies that had a positive look on Americana. More such movies might make America look more attractive to people in foreign countries as well as many Americans themselves. On the other hand, I don't think Direct Hitthe public of any country would on a regular basis buy movies that were only filled with positive Americana. It wouldn't fit their world where cynicism is all around them, whether it's from America or some other source. Anyway, despite my mixed feelings on modern day cynicism in American movies, I was pumped up to see Direct Hit, where the American CIA is seen as some kind of threat. That's because the movie was a production by PM Entertainment, which made some great direct to video movies in its heyday. Here's the description of the plot found on the back of the DVD case: "John Hatch (Forsythe, Once Upon A Time In America) is a professional assassin who works directly for the head of the CIA. He's one of the best. But he's not proud of it and wants to retire. And his last assignment seems like an easy one - "remove" Savannah Miles (Champa, Out For Justice), a beautiful young woman who is supposedly bribing a U.S. senator. But things are not always what they seems to be. And when he learns she is a pawn in a much larger game, Hatch tries to redeem his own life by protecting hers - and putting himself into the line of fire! Pursued by a government trained mercenary and the police, Hatch has to use every trick he's ever learned to keep himself and Savannah alive."

Actually, the character of Savannah Miles is supposedly blackmailing the politician, not bribing him. And the politician isn't actually a senator yet, just running for the position in an upcoming election. Apparently the Madacy DVD employee who wrote the above synopsis wasn't paying close attention to the movie when he or she watched it. Anyway, besides Forsythe and Champa, Direct Hit also has in its cast veteran actor George Segal (All's Fair) as Forsythe's CIA boss, martial arts actor Richard Norton (Cyber Tracker) as another CIA hitman, and a cameo by baseball's Steve Garvey (playing a reporter). While I'm on the subject of the people in the movie, I might as well first get into how the actors and their characters come across. The two principle actors in the movie, William Forsythe and Jo Champa, for the most part do not manage to make a positive impression with their performances. Forsythe does impress in one scene taking place in a church when he manages to show a sudden change with what his character is feeling and thinking without saying a word, letting his facial expressions do the talking. But otherwise, his performance rubs the audience the wrong way. Although his character is an assassin who is supposed to keep his feelings in check, he goes too far with this. He is unbelievably icy cold and emotionless for the most part, seldom showing a shred of humanity which would explain why his character decides to save his target. I blame the script for much of this, because precious little background of this guy ultimately gets to be revealed, even when Champa's character attempts to communicate with him. Champa's acting and character isn't that much better than Forsythe's. Champa is somewhat stiff in her first few scenes, and while she subsequently improves in the subsequent portion of the movie, she has some problems when her character has to show great emotion. It doesn't help that her character is written to subsequently fall for her savior and lead to the movie's inevitable sex sequence between her and Forsythe's character, despite the fact that both characters have been given practically nothing to find romantically attractive in each other.

As for actors George Segal and Richard Norton, both performers seem to be phoning it in, probably due to the fact they are not given that much of substance to do. Believe it or not, Norton doesn't engage in martial arts at any time in Direct Hit. There is some interest that comes from Segal's CIA director character in that his ultimate fate is probably not the one that you are expecting, and it turns out to be the only fresh twist to be found in the screenplay by PM Entertainment veteran writer Jacobsen Hart (The Sweeper). There are no other real surprises to be found in the story; you have seen all the various plot twists countless times in other B movies before. The only interest the screenplay has is with how badly written some portions are, from the awkward exposition in the first few minutes of the movie to some plot turns that are simply not given any explanation, like how the characters of Hatch and Savannah are able to track down her ex-husband when he goes into hiding. I imagine that there are some viewers who may not mind that much (or anything at all) about the weak and predictable story, and are just interested in how this PM movie delivers what the company is best known for: eye candy. Well, I will say that the movie does have the company trademark of good photography, and that there was clearly some time given to light most indoor and outdoor locations in a way that visually, the movie would stand out from B movies from other companies. However, it doesn't take long for the lighting to become ludicrous. Scene after scene takes place in a darkened environment for much of the movie, and one has to ask why the characters simply don't turn on a light switch when they are in one of the countless darkened interiors.

As for other production values, there aren't that many that stand out. There are a couple of moments taking place in CIA control room full of computers and technicians, but we hardly get to see it. Most of the movie was filmed on existing locations in and around Los Angeles, and these locations often look quite seedy and/or unfurnished. Direct Hit doesn't get much better when it comes to the other eye candy PM is known for, action sequences. The action in the movie occasionally has a good moment that is spectacular (a car driving into a building, a car accident involving a fire truck), but other than isolated (and brief) moments such as those, the action in the movie surprisingly lacks passion, coming across as flat and a matter-of-fact. The movie also attempts to stage action a lot fewer times than you would think; after the opening action sequence, we have to wait more than half an hour before the next action sequence. The passionless action is a real surprise coming from director Joseph Merhi, who'd later make exciting actioners for PM like Last Man Standing and Rage. And as I indicated earlier, even the material between the action scenes comes across as tired and worn-out. Interestingly, the closing credits for Direct Hit credit Paul G. Volk (Steel Frontier) for "additional directing". When a movie has such a credit, it usually means that either there were some significant problems during the movie's filming, or the finished product turned out to be unsatistfying enough that reshoots were ordered. I couldn't determine which moments in the movie were shot by Volk, but whatever he contributed to Direct Hit, it clearly didn't help much, if anything at all, to raise this movie from being pretty much completely forgettable.

(Posted October 12, 2018)

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See also: Last Man Standing, Rage, The Sweeper