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You Kill Me

Contrived Hitman Comedy/Drama

In the early 90s, John Dahl made a rep for himself by directing modestly budgeted neo-noirs, including Kill Me Again, Red Rock West, and Rounders. Dahl is back working on familiar genre ground with You Kill Me, a contrived comedy/drama about an angst-ridden hitman that’s long on predictability and short on laughs.

Frank Falenczyk (Ben Kingsley), a hitman for the Polish mob in Buffalo, New York run by his aging uncle, Roman Krzeminski (Philip Baker Hall), lets his love affair with the bottle interfere with the hit on a rival gang boss, Edward O'Leary (Dennis Farina), muscling in on the Polish mob’s territory. Krzeminski and Frank’s cousin, Stef Czyprynski (Marcus Thomas), decide a group intervention is in order to save Frank from the bottle and back to doing what he does best, killing his uncle’s enemies. After confronting Frank with his failures as a hitman and family member, Roman and Stef send Frank to San Francisco, where he can get his head together.

In San Francisco, Dave (Bill Pullman), an unscrupulous real estate broker and family friend, sets Frank up with an apartment and a part-time job at a local funeral parlor. At Frank's first Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, Frank meets Tom (Luke Wilson), a gay toll worker and fellow alcoholic who volunteers to become Frank's guide into lifelong sobriety. One day, Frank meets and comforts one of the funeral parlor's clients, Laurel Pearson (Téa Leoni), there to say her goodbyes to her stepfather. A friendly exchange turns into a date, and soon enough, romance develops between Frank and Laurel. But Frank's career as a hitman, and worsening relations between the Polish and Irish mobs, threaten any chance Frank and Laurel have at a happily ever after.

You Kill Me hits all the story and character beats you'd expect from a derivative crime comedy-drama. Nothing that happens to Frank, up to and including the botched hit job that comes back to haunt the central character and the obligatory romantic relationship with an edgy woman who may or may be what she seems, will come as a surprise to anyone familiar with the crime genre. But those are minor points next to the complete implausibility of the romantic relationship that depends on a newly confessional Frank and an equally accepting Laurel. Dahl and his screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely made little effort to make the relationship convincing and without that, we’re left adrift in implausibilities and contrivances that make us care less and less about the characters as You Kill Me wears on.

As contrived as You Kill Me is, it’s almost (operative word is “almost”) saved by Ben Kingsley as Frank, playing a quieter, gentler, more awkward version of the gangster he essayed to brilliant effect in Sexy Beast and a solid supporting cast including Philip Baker Hall as the tender-hearted gang boss, Dennis Farina as his slick, amoral competitor, a rumpled, disheveled Bill Pullman, and Luke Wilson as Frank’s easily befuddled, if well-intentioned, AA sponsor. In a cast dominated by men, Téa Leoni brings her trademark high-energy, high-strung persona to rapidly diminishing returns. It’s less her fault, though, than a script that barely gives her a backstory (she’s in sales and lives alone) and believable motivation for remaining with Frank (and no, a dull, directionless life isn’t enough of a reason to become a hitman’s girlfriend). Sadly, that doesn’t leave much for moviegoers looking for their next neo-noir/crime drama fix.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars