by Jason Coffman
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It’s impossible to overstate the huge influence Quentin Tarantino’s early films have had on independent cinema. Although not as prevalent as they used to be, there are still numerous independent productions every year that aim to be Tarantinoesque— most of them miss the mark pretty badly and end up being tedious and grating. Even some of the better ones are entertaining but forgettable. Writer/director Joe Casey’s Hit Parade mostly falls into the later category, with occasional lapses into the former.
Jerome Archer (Jonathan Browning) is a former hit man who retired from the business after being busted for tax evasion. Leaving his glamorous profession behind, Archer is now a department manager at a franchise bookstore, living in a sparsely-furnished apartment and just barely getting by at the actual “management” part of his job title. His quiet life is disturbed by the appearance of a pair of covert Census Bureau agents (Scott Brick and Mariah Robinson) investigating the death of a CIA operative at the hands of flamboyant assassin Speed Razor (Nicholas Lanier). While Archer tries to weigh his options, kingpin Moses Magma (Roger McDonald) tries to talk Jerome into taking his old job back.
Along the way, Hit Parade introduces an awful lot of characters, including Jerome’s co-workers at the bookstore and some porn filmmakers who double as assassins. All these characters don’t necessarily bog things down, but as with many low-budget action films, there’s a lot more talking than action. The barrage of pop-culture references and wiseguy dialogue owes an obvious debt to Tarantino while mostly lacking the flair of the man’s own writing. There are moments when the film feels like a comic book adaptation, which makes sense given writer/director Joe Casey’s background in comics (and as co-creator of hit animated series Ben 10). Unfortunately, the film’s tone veers wildly, making the darker scenes feel weirdly out of place among the more comedic elements.
Those comedic elements, however, end up being the best parts of Hit Parade. There are some very funny moments sprinkled throughout the film, particularly the scenes dealing with Archer struggling to keep his bookstore job while his old life threatens to intrude. Nicholas Lanier brings an infectious energy to the character of Speed Razor, keeping his character just on the edge between endearing and annoying. The rest of the cast is all over the place, but that may be the result of a seriously uneven script that finds characters making inexplicable decisions and undergoing sudden shifts in personality and lapses in logic.
Hit Parade is rarely dull, and Casey keeps things moving at a decent clip. With a bit more attention paid to characters and less on getting more cool points for easy pop culture references, it could have been considerably better. As it is, it’s a decently entertaining indie that hopefully hints at better things to come from its alumni both in front of and behind the camera.
Jason Coffman is a film critic living in Chicago.
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