Two Thrillers from Sony
The Hit List (May 7/11)
The Hit List casts Cole Hauser as Allan Campbell, a business executive who strikes up a drunken conversation with a mysterious figure (Cuba Gooding Jr's Jonas Arbor) hours after enduring the worst day of his life. Jonas eventually reveals that he's a professional assassin and invites Allan to write down the names of five people he'd like to see killed, which Allan, believing that the whole thing is a goof, gladly does - although, perhaps inevitably, it's not long before the folks on Allan's list begin to turn up dead. It's due primarily to the undeniably irresistible premise that The Hit List remains as watchable as it does, as the movie is, for the most part, suffused with precisely the sort of elements one has come to expect from the direct-to-video action scene - with the film's pervasively low-rent vibe often threatening to negate its few positive characteristics. High on the movie's list of better-than-anticipated attributes is Gooding Jr's surprisingly strong performance, with the actor's charismatic work proving instrumental in initially capturing the viewer's interest and smoothing over the more overtly questionable stretches within Chad and Evan Law's screenplay. (Hauser, on the other hand, seems somewhat miscast as a meek, 98-pound-weakling-type figure.) The inclusion of a few admittedly (and unexpectedly) thrilling sequences - eg Allan races to save the life of one of Jonas' targets - heightens the film's relatively watchable atmosphere, and although the whole thing does run out of steam in its final act, The Hit List is ultimately a fair degree more entertaining than the majority of its DTV brethren (with the movie certainly an improvement over such recent Gooding Jr disasters as The Devil's Tomb and Sacrifice).
White Water Summer (May 8/11)
Though billed as a fast-paced thriller, White Water Summer primarily comes off as an innocuous drama revolving around the exploits of several campers and their seemingly amiable guide - with the film's sedate atmosphere cemented by its deliberate pace and emphasis on stand-alone set pieces. It's worth noting, however, that the film is actually quite watchable in its early stages, as stars Kevin Bacon and Sean Astin are quite charming and personable in their respective roles - while filmmaker Jeff Bleckner, along with cinematographer John Alcott (who shot Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange and The Shining, among others), does a nice job of capturing the natural splendor of the film's outdoor locations. It's only as White Water Summer progresses into its aggressively episodic midsection that one's interest starts to wane, as Bleckner stresses happenings and occurrences of a decidedly mundane nature (eg the kids build a fire, attempt to catch a fish, etc) - with the less-than-engrossing vibe compounded by the director's ongoing difficulties at wringing suspense out of inherently tense situations (eg the gang crosses a rickety wooden bridge). And although the movie does improve slightly as Bacon's character becomes a progressively sinister figure, White Water Summer is simply (and ultimately) unable to overcome the pervasive pointlessness of Manya Starr and Ernest Kinoy's wafer-thin screenplay.