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July 18, 2007 | Comments ()


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One Deadpan Day At A Time

You Kill Me / Constance Howes

Film Reviews | July 18, 2007 | Comments ()


From minor irritations to existential dilemmas, the professional hitman seems to have a lot on his plate. While I can’t identify with killing people, I can identify with not quite cutting the mustard at work, and if a mob story is served on a sensitive, snarky platter, just call my entertainment needs sated. In You Kill Me, Ben Kingsley plays Frank Falenczyk, the alcoholic nephew of a Polish mob boss in Buffalo, N.Y. The movie begins with Frank shoveling snow from his front walk. It is immediately apparent that Frank is a raging alcoholic. Not just because he drinks vodka like it’s Evian, but because his cousin, Steph Krzeminski (Marcus Thomas), oily as a kernel of professionally coiffed popcorn, shows up to Frank’s house and calls him one. Steph doles out a deadpan dose of death and describes Frank’s next target. As it turns out, there’s a big, fat feud between the Poles and the Micks over territory. Frank’s marching orders are to trim the fat and eliminate Mick mob boss Edward O’ Leary (Dennis Farina) before the Irish and their sugardaddy Chinese syndicates take over Buffalo for good … or in this case, bad.

You’re blown away by original content right now, aren’t you? No? I wasn’t either. The entire audience was suspiciously silent during this part of the film. I mean, there was the obligatory crunching of grindage and some standard seat-shifting, but I got the distinct impression that everyone was peering at their date through over-priced Mikli frames and thinking “I told you we should have gone to see the new Christian Bale flick! God.”

So, Frank botches the job. Of. Course. He chugs a bottle of whiskey before the hit and, hunched in his car, he passes out. O’Leary takes a train to Buffalo (why a successful mafioso would ever condescend to ride Amtrak in lieu of swanky private transportation is beyond me, but since a remarkably thin plot is being not-so-meticulously crafted here, I assume we’re meant to just roll with it) and becomes best buds with Asian money; consequently, Frank is blamed for ruining the family “business.” The plot isn’t just thin at this point, it’s anorexic, and the whole thing reeks of immature filmmaking at its most mundane. Luckily for us and the movie, big boss Uncle Roman Krzeminski (Philip Baker Hall) stages a mobtastic intervention and ships Frankaholic off to sunny San Fran where he is to undergo a mandatory 12-step program, get his sloppy act together and resume (cross your fingers!) his professional preying.

Frank is less than thrilled about any near-beer fun in the sun and snots, “But I like the snow.” This is our first indication that Ben Kingsley has not decided to play Frank the Hitman as someone with severe autism. I know we’re talking about Ben Kingsley. I know he’s a good-to-great actor (Sexy Beast rocked my world) but for the first 20 minutes of this movie I was seriously skeptical of his performance decisions. Alcoholics may be useless but lots of them are at least fun. All Frank seemed to do was guzzle, sleep, lather, rinse, repeat.

Anywho, Frank shows up in California looking wilted, worse for wear and in sore need of a drink. (All that warmth and optimism terrifies a true blue East-coaster. Trust me.) His irritating California contact is real estate agent Dave (Bill Pullman), who fancies himself hardcore despite his Dad hair and smarm. Dave scores our main (hit)man a jack-of-all-trades job at a local funeral home because umm … funeral homes are fun? Obvious humor devices aside, the funniest moments of the film happen at Frank’s new job. Attempting a reluctant go of it, Frank attends a few AA meetings, befriends Tom (Luke Wilson), an SFTA toll taker, and learns to tie a backwards windsor knot. Things sort of progress. Enter Laurel (Tea Leoni) and the only real character development we see during You Kill Me’s 90-minute run. IMDb is failing me at the moment, but I’m fairly certain that Tea Leoni had a hand in producing this pelĂ­cula, and while it’s a fairly charming endeavor, she had to know it would not be a money-making blockbuster. I knew this before actually watching You Kill Me and just didn’t get the motive for Tea’s involvement … until Laurel came on the scene. She’s a beaut of a character. The movie could have been about dancing unicorns and teddy bears but it wouldn’t matter as long as Laurel got to sass us silly.

Remember the grumbly audience of paragraphs yore? With the appearance of love-interest Laurel and subsequent Laurel/Frank interaction, all previous skepticism was forgotten and the theater erupted often with easy laughter. The increasingly pointless plot became secondary to the tongue-in-cheek deadpan and humor. You Kill Me might be a poor movie movie, but it’s a damn near perfect date movie. There’s mobster mayhem to appease the thrill-seekers, quirky romance to satisfy the hormonal, and sarcastic comedy for everyone else. Think Scarface in Seattle or When The Godfather Met Sally or even There’s Something About Hitmen. And best of all, there’s no pesky, complex plot to drive anyone in ye olde date mode to think overmuch.

Constance Howes is a book critic for Pajiba and a graphic designer living in Philadelphia. Her hobbies include making out and messing shit up. In short, she’s a firecracker. She blogs over at I Love You in the Face.



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