'Hit List' finds a modest niche on cable

January 16, 1993|By Steve McKerrow | Steve McKerrow,Staff Writer

Cable television has invented a distinct sub-genre of films that falls somewhere between boffo box office theatrical releases and the crime or disease movie-of-the-week commonplace on the networks.

"The Hit List," premiering at 8 p.m. tomorrow on Showtime, is a quintessential made-for-cable thriller: not great, but not bad either, with a big star in a hammy smallish part (James Coburn), nice, moody direction and a derivative plot that may not bear close examination but zips divertingly along.

Jeff Fahey ("The Lawnmower Man") plays icy professional killer Charlie Pike.

This hit man kills only "people who deserve to die," such as the drug dealer done in during the credits.

Mr. Coburn plays the assassin's "control," a representative of something called "the committee," who engages Pike to save a beautiful and rich young woman (Yancy Butler) from the nasty guy who killed her husband.

It turns out the man is the same guy who killed Pike's girlfriend, whose loss has left him soul-dead and . . . well, you get the idea.

Regular viewers of cable thrillers know that nothing ever proves clear-cut.

It requires no ESP to know our hit-man hero will soon find himself in a morass of subplots and counter-conspiracies.

"The Hit List" boasts some rich cinematography that shows off its southern California setting well, a nice, bass-driven jazz score that sets an edgy tone, and the obligatory cable nudity that comes off as rather reserved.

The script includes some awful moments, such as when Ms. Butler's character says, "At first I was really disgusted by what you do. Then I realized the feeling in my stomach was excitement."

Uh-huh. All good girls get turned on by professional hit men.

But at times the writing has some punch, as when one of the cops doggedly tracking the elusive Pike notes, "Given the level of sophistication [of his killings], he's got to have been either the mob or the government."

*

PORT INTEREST -- Maryland Public Television says this week's local documentary "Port Baltimore," which chronicles daily activities at the international maritime center, was one of the most-watched programs ever aired on MPT.

The program, which repeats at 8 tonight and at 8:30 tomorrow morning, posted a 6.8 rating/9 share Monday in the overnight "people meter" measurements by the A. C. Nielsen service.

That means an estimated 90,000-plus households in the area tuned in the show, according to MPT officials.

By contrast, the PBS series "The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil" lTC that followed "Port Baltimore" dropped to a 2.8 rating/4 share.

The highest-rated PBS show on MPT in the November "sweeps" period, "Dinosaurs," had a 6.24 rating/8 share.

" 'Port Baltimore' was not only the highest-viewed regional MPT production of the past year, but it had higher viewership on MPT than any of the top 10 PBS shows of the fall season," said Carol Wonsavage, director of programming and promotion at MPT.

*

CONGRESSMAN DEBUTS -- Rep. Kweisi Mfume, D-7, will be host of a new public affairs program, "The Bottom Line," premiering at 11 a.m. tomorrow on WBAL-Channel 11.

The show offers a weekly forum on local issues, and each edition features a live studio audience.

The topic for this week's debut is "Sex and the Student Body," a discussion of teen pregnancy in Baltimore, where each year, almost one in 10 female students ages 15 to 17 becomes pregnant.

Viewers interested in being part of future studio discussions may call the station at 832-1200, Ext. 9206.

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