When cop Cliff Garrett (Chuck Norris) gets shot by his corrupt partner, Ronny Delaney (Michael Parks), he dies and nearly gets to go to heaven. However, at the last minute, the doctor’s manage to bring Cliff back to life. Since everyone believes Cliff to be dead, his superiors come up with a brilliant plan. What if Cliff changes his name to Grogan, grows his hair long, and goes undercover as a hitman?
Cliff’s up for it and is soon working for an Italian mobster named Marco Luganni (Al Waxman). Marco wants to eliminate all of the other mobsters in town but he also has to deal with a bunch of drug-dealing Iranians who are trying to move in on his territory. Cliff soon works his way into the inner circle and plays all sides against each other. What’s strange is that Cliff manages to fool everyone into thinking that he’s Grogan despite the fact that all he’s really doing is wearing his hair long. In fact, the only person who he doesn’t fool is his former partner, Delaney. Delaney is not happy to discover that Cliff is still alive and sets out to take him out once and for all.
Because this is a Chuck Norris film, there’s a subplot where Cliff helps a bullied youth named Tim (Salim Grant) learn how to stick up for himself. One thing that set Chuck Norris apart from other 80s action heroes is that Chuck always tried to teach all the kids in the audience of his R-rated films a good lesson about staying off drugs, standing up to bullies, and not doubting the American way. I always have mixed feelings about this aspect of Chuck’s films because the message scenes usually don’t fit in with the rest of the narrative and it’s always questionable if a film featuring Chuck killing people is the right place for a wholesome life lesson but, at the same time, Chuck is so sincere that these scenes usually feature his best acting. When Tim beats up a bully and then Chuck beats up the bully’s father, it really makes you realize that someone missed an opportunity by not making a movie where Chuck Norris played a computer science teacher who prepared his students not just for a career in STEM but also taught them how to put the members of football team in their place. In the case of The Hitman, the crime subplot and the bullying subplot come together when Delaney decides to use Tim to strike at Cliff.
The Hitman is one of Chuck’s later films, which means the budget is lower than the films he did for Cannon and the action scenes are not as elaborate. Chuck’s brother, Aaron, directs and he does okay but he’s no Joe “Missing In Action” Zito or Menahem “Delta Force” Golan. The fight scenes are competently done in a workmanlike manner but they’re never as exciting as what we’ve come to expect from the Norris brand. The main appeal here is to see Chuck Norris and Michael Parks in the same movie. Chuck, as always, underplays while Parks, as always, overplays and it’s always entertaining to watch them go at each other. Otherwise, The Hitman is for Chuck completists only.