Chuck Norris tries hard to get bad in "The Hitman," but the amiable Oklahoman is about as bad as Cheerios in milk. His lack of real menace somewhat undercuts the sinister intent of the film; you keep expecting him to put on a smile button and begin chirping psychobabble about the power of a positive attitude.
The movie, directed by his brother Aaron ("An Aaron Norris Film," the credits proudly declare), is a fairly lackadaisical steal from "A Fistful of Dollars," which itself stole from Kurosawa's "Yojimbo," so the spirit of cheerful larceny isn't inappropriate.
It follows as Norris, this time sporting greasy hair, black leather punk garb, and a scruffy three-day beard, plays an undercover cop who skillfully maneuvers two rival drug gangs against each other, and then smokes the survivors himself and walks out smiling.
As the movie itself won't be confused with its progenitors, neither will our hero be confused with the laconic Eastwood or the tattered Toshiro Mifune. Still, as he's aged and acquired experience, Norris has settled into a comfy niche, like a pair of old slippers. He's relaxed when he delivers his lines and now and then gets off a nice macho bit of understatement as when, after skulling some drug thug, he leans over and says in his best Mr. Rogers chirp, "Welcome to my world."
There's also a very nice confrontation with some Iranian hit men in a Seattle restaurant where Norris' cheerful self-confidence gives the lines some more weight than they might have otherwise carried.
On other fronts, the movie is nothing if not shameless. It even gives Norris a young black protege, whom he teaches to "face his fears" with karate, and watches approvingly as the kid whacks a larger teen tormentor. Still, when the movie moves to put this child in jeopardy to advance its somewhat shaky dramatics, one wishes the temptation had been avoided.
It's also nice to see a film set somewhere as opposed to nowhere. This one transpires in Seattle, and makes good usage of the wet, foggy climate of late winter. It isn't very good, but it isn't all bad.
Starring Chuck Norris.
Directed by Aaron Norris.
Released by Cannon.