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What’s Funny About All These Hit-Man Films?

Fri., April 18, 1997

Use a gun, go to prison. Use a silencer, go to Hollywood.

What is this fascination that filmmakers and movie audiences have with professional hit men? What is the allure of the trained killer? Why do we enjoy watching someone methodically prepare to murder another human being?

The movie bad guy disguised as a hero is almost as old as the cinema itself. Continuing in that tradition are two new films, “8 Heads in a Duffel Bag” and “Grosse Pointe Blank.”

In the former, Joe Pesci’s luggage gets mixed up with a vacationing family’s bags at the airport. Who among us couldn’t identify with that problem? See, we already have something in common with the hit man.

The only difference between the hero and us is that his luggage contains the severed heads of eight victims. He needs those severed heads to prove to his employer that he completed his job.

The latter film, another comedy, finds John Cusack as a deadly, proficient killer who decides to attend his 10th high school reunion because it happens to be close to his latest assignment.

Both films elicit a lot of laughs.

Why? What do we find so funny about murder and murderers?

OK, we know that we go to the movies to escape the stress/boredom of our tension-filled/humdrum lives (take your pick). We go to the movies to live someone else’s life for a couple of hours. But is the life of a hit man that interesting and appealing that we would want to exchange ours for his, even for a couple of hours?

Let’s see, he makes a nice salary and gets to work from home and set his own schedule. The typical hit man is an independent contractor and has no boss. A hit man can write off bullets, knives and night-vision goggles as business expenses.

A hit man gets to travel a lot, although he can’t stay too long in any one place. He does, however, fully understand the meaning of packing light.

Finally, I think we admire the hit man because, unlike other professionals such as lawyers and doctors, he gets paid only when he successfully completes his job. In our society, a man willing to stand behind his work is a man worth admiring.


 

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