Lacking genuine suspense, erotic charge and intriguing characters, all crucial elements for an effectively pleasing film noir, Steven Shainberg’s feature debut, “Hit Me,” is arguably the weakest adaptation of celebrated crime novelist Jim Thompson to reach the bigscreen to date. Theatrical future looks dim for a movie that is not only poorly conceived and directed, but is also sabotaged by Elias Koteas’ mannered performance in what seems to be the worst imitation imaginable of Robert De Niro.
Thompson’s dark, ironic work has inspired such estimable noirs as “The Getaway,” “Coup de torchon,” “The Grifters” and “After Dark, My Sweet.” Compared with these pictures, or even with the flawed “The Kill-Off,” “Hit Me” is irritating almost from the first scene. Set in Tacoma, Wash., yarn revolves around Sonny (Koteas), a desperate bellhop whose hopeful dreams lead him to believe that he could have a better life — if only he had some money. Living with his obese, mentally retarded brother, Leroy (Jay Leggett), Sonny leads a dreary life. Opportunity knocks when one evening a young enigmatic woman, Monique (Laure Marsac), asks for room service. As soon as Sonny arrives in her room, she cuts her wrists with a knife.
A bizarre affair (lacking steamy sex) evolves between Sonny and Monique, a femme who describes herself as “a four-star woman in a two-star hotel.” Plot gets going when Del (Bruce Ramsay), a street hustler, drags the dim Sonny into a dangerous scheme that involves stealing money from the safe deposits of rich guests at the hotel where Sonny works. Predictably, things go wrong, with Sonny and his cohorts not realizing that Lenny Ish (Philip Baker Hall), the hotel’s top executive and head of illegal card games, is much smarter than they are.
On paper, “Hit Me” features a complicated, fanciful, labyrinthine tale, filled with criminal schemes, double-dealings and double-crossings. But neophyte Shainberg seems lost in the maze, unable to navigate the twisted plot or stage emotionally engaging sequences. The camera is often in the wrong place, and bizarre p.o.v. shots and skewed angles that are meant to be inventive and revelatory only manage to be jarringly distancing.
Shainberg is further defeated by his two leads, both severely miscast. Koteas , who has given deft performances in Atom Egoyan’s films, overacts terribly, with mannerisms and gestures aping De Niro’s rich gallery of disturbed men;sporting short black hair, he even looks like De Niro. Worse, there is no chemistry between him and Marsac, who looks reasonably sexy as the alluring babe but suffers from a problem that has afflicted many talented French actresses before her: Her English is so heavily accented that it’s almost unclear.
Pic features last performance by Oscar-winner Haing S. Ngor, who was murdered earlier this year.