The premise is ridiculous and the story unfolds like a one-act play but there’s something so remarkably likable about I Put a Hit on You that complaints about its sitcom-ish structure or lack of filmic quality visually feel just cantankerous. It’s a film carried by its charismatic leads and the little details brought to their characterizations by writer/directors who know that a film like this is only going to work if we like and believe in the only two people that we’re really going to see for a brisk 78 minutes. With its one-setting and two-characters, is it essentially a filmed play? Yes, but if you know that going in, it’s a fun, clever filmed play.
Harper (Sara Canning – Jenna Sommers on The Vampire Diaries) is going out for a big night. We meet her trying on shoes, looking for the perfect outfit, and nervously fidgeting at a fancy restaurant. She has to be in the right seat and have just the right look. Her date, Ray (Aaron Ashmore – Jimmy Olsen on Smallville) finally arrives and he seems a bit more awkward. He hurt himself before dinner and hasn’t really dealt with the injury. Immediately, one can sense that this is a relationship between two people on slightly different wavelengths. And when Harper proposes marriage to Ray, his response makes it clear that it was the last thing he was expecting. He turns her down.
Flash to later that night: Harper is at home, stewing and moping over how badly the proposal went. She opens the hard liquor that she probably doesn’t drink that often, given that she pours it into a wine glass (it’s little details like that that make Dane Clark & Linsey Stewart’s script so unexpectedly clever at times). After WAY too much booze, she does what one should never do when they’re emotional and drunk – she goes online. Having talked about the tendency for people to trade things on Craiglist – you know the story of the guy who traded his paper clip all the way up to a house – Harper offers a trade: I’ll give you my engagement ring if you whack my boyfriend. She’s drunk, it isn’t serious, these kinds of things don’t work anyway, right? Right?!!?
Harper wakes up to realize the horrendous error of her ways and learn that someone has accepted her offer and could be en route to commit the deed right that minute. She races to Ray’s house to tell him and the bulk of the film takes place as these two hunker down and deal with their relationship issues while wondering if the white van outside may contain someone planning to permanently end it.
Some may give up on the very premise and it is difficult at first to accept the idea that Ray wouldn’t just freak out, call the cops, and file charges against Harper. However, the writing and the two performances get one over the suspension of disbelief. Harper and Ray are alternately certain that nothing is really going to happen and scared enough to stay up all night and worry about it anyway. While Ray wasn’t ready for the proposal, he has some secrets of his own and still loves Harper. Do I believe that this premise would unfold this way? Probably not but I didn’t care because Clark, Stewart, Ashmore, and Canning made it easy not to. There are so many fine-tuned relationship beats – like when Harper covers Ray’s ears as he grinds coffee to block the noise – that it’s easy to see these two as a couple. And that’s SO key to I Put a Hit on You and what other filmmakers would have missed. The truth is that if we believe the relationship is real, we’ll go along for a ride that might not be.
Clark & Stewart’s script is smarter than the premise may first lead you to believe but it’s the performances that really elevate it. Ashmore seems genuine but this is Canning’s movie and one hopes that it gets this talented actress more exposure. She takes an incredibly difficult task – to make a woman who accidentally tries to kill her boyfriend likable to the point that we even root for this relationship to work out – and delivers on it. If one steps back and considers the tonal juggling act inherent in the very set-up of I Put a Hit on You, it’s impossible not to admire how it turned out.