The heartfelt hitman’s been done to death. I can’t understand what about this particular film drew Michael Keaton to star, let alone direct. Ron Lazzeretti’s script is a microwaved relationship drama: serviceable, but too bland to be appealing. It’s too maudlin to be refreshing and it’s not violent enough to be interesting. It sort of slinks around like a creepy fat guy too nervous to ask the pretty girl out, instead lingering with the desperate hope it gets noticed and maybe smiled at. It’s hard to be charmed by a suicidal hitman pining for a sweet secretary running from an abusive cop husband. The cast is decent, the performances are well done, but the film never really gets out from under the cloud of its own snowfall.
Kate (Kelly Macdonald) is not a happy lady. Her husband (Bobby Cannavale) hits her, so she runs away to the city, where she finds an apartment and a job as a secretary. She’s quiet and has an accent so adorable it’s practically an aphrodisiac for desperate men. Everyone seems drawn to the shy Kate, and I mean EVERYONE. One night, when leaving work, she gazes up at the falling snow and sees a man standing on a rooftop. Her screams startle the man, who falls backwards on to the roof and saves his life. This man is Frank Logan (Michael Keaton), and Frank is not a happy man. Frank is a hitman, whose listless homicidal tendencies tend towards offing himself. At least that’s what his actions are supposed to make us think but like the rest of the movie his attempts feel lukewarm at best. Frank follows Kate home from an office party, where she drunkenly purchased a Christmas tree. (Bitch never heard of a Denny’s?) Frank helps Kate carry her tree upstairs, after finding her sprawled beneath it in her lobby. The next day, Frank stops off to visit Kate because he’s lonely when he collapses with complications from pneumonia. He ends up in the hospital, with Kate as his only visitor. On Christmas. Do you hear the violins yet? Kate and Frank have a quiet, awkward relationship, which consists mostly of them sharing silences and long, drawn out staring contests with bleak landscapes.
But there’s a complication when the cops arrives. Well, first it’s just one cop, the detective investigating Kate’s report of the man on the rooftop. Dave Murcheson (Tom Bastounes) is not a happy man. He’s a fat lonely cop, and he’s kind of a doof. So he awkwardly makes advances towards Kate, but she’s not having any. You gotta feel bad for the dude when the sweet quiet girl gets up in his face. Still. Even if Michael Keaton has retroactively absorbed the Batman voice curse, dude was Beetlejuice, and he’s the shit. Sorry fat cop, life has stymied you again. Anyway, Dave’s investigating the murder Frank committed, not knowing that he’s trying to find his cockblock. Meanwhile, Kate’s husband returns, born again, and desperate to reconcile. You can probably figure out where things are going from here. Even if you mumble it sadly, two plus two always equals someone getting whacked for love.
Kelly Macdonald continues on her proud streak of fine roles in OK movies. Tom Bastounes is decent as a schlub, mooning over Macdonald without coming off as pathetic or mopey. He’s a strange blend of Eeyore and Sipowitz. Bobby Cannavale has what practically amounts to a cameo, but he’s fucking spooky. Starting off high with his awesome turn in The Station Agent, Cannavale has continued to impress the hell out of me with his choice of roles and over-the-top performances. Darlene Hunt’s hair steals the show as a spunky secretary/friend to Kate, one of those character actresses who’ll have a great second banana future. Keaton pulls off gruffy and grumbly as only he can. He’s one of my favorite actors, shamefully relegated in his later years to a series of weak roles in lame movies. His directing isn’t anything stunning, mostly opting for static frames.
The Merry Gentleman will quietly serve as one of those flicks people watch when checking out all the performances of one of the leads. If Keaton continues to direct, and there’s nothing here to say he shouldn’t, this was a good picture to cut his teeth on. It’s quiet and sad, coughing up humorous bits like an asthmatic comic.
Brian Prisco lives in a pina down by the mer-port of Burbank, by way of the cheesesteak-laden arteries of Philadelphia. Any and all grumblings can be directed to priscogospel at hotmail dot com.