You Kill Me

Cast:
Ben Kingsley as Frank Falenczyk
Téa Leoni as Laurel Pearson
Luke Wilson as Tom
Bill Pullman as Dave
Phillip Baker Hall as Roman Krzeminski
Denis Farina as Edward O’ Leary
Directed by John Dahl

Summary:
Mafia comedy with twisted romance at its core serves up stilted laughs and an uncompelling gangster vendetta.

Synopsis:
The Irish and Polish gangs in Buffalo are embroiled in an all out war, but just as things are heating up, hitman Frank Falenczyk is taken out of commission to deal with his rampant alcoholism.

Analysis:
“You Kill Me” is a black comedy that confuses dark wit with banal cruelty. The usually superb Ben Kingsley strikes out for the first time in years with an ill-conceived performance as Polish mafia assassin Frank Falenczyk who is sent to AA after one drunken night causes him to sleep through an important assignment. Kingsley’s take on what I think is supposed to be a Polish accent just comes off as a persistent cotton-in-mouth mumble. His blank face and fidgety body language are more “Rain Man” than hitman. You can sense a minor stirring of emotion in his eyes, but the character is so flat and boneheaded that it doesn’t seem to matter.

The movie is trying to reinvent the felonious wheel, so to speak. Instead of creating a character rooted in authentic complication, torn apart by drinking and killing, Frank is mostly just a big goof with a gun. He says he doesn’t mind killing people, but he does regret killing them badly because of his shaky reflexes under the influence. Somehow we’re just supposed to accept the cartoon deep Frank as a lovable, neighborhood murderer. It’s wrong then that the main joke of the film is the way people treat him no matter how terrible he seems. When he confesses to his AA sponsor Tom (Luke Wilson) and new girlfriend Laurel (Téa Leoni) what he does for a living they both rally behind him saying things like “I know if you focus, you can slit that guy’s throat!” Are we supposed to like Frank? Fear Frank? Wonder why no one cares that he kills people? Or just laugh because it’s funny that they don’t? Tone is life or death when juggling bloody murder and screwball comedy and this movie never really locks on to a steady pacing or narrative direction. It’s just a smattering of off the wall comedy gags in which its creators want us to laugh at randomly violent and often very mean devices. Everyone in this filmed is boiled down to such a thin, unorginal stereotype. Frank goes to an Irish wake where everyone is partying and drinking up a storm. Then he goes to his addiction meetings where everyone vapidly expresses cliché lines like “I eat too much because I feel so empty inside.” Their confessions are an awkward shade of arch, just enough that when we see people snoring in the front row and watch Frank roll his eyes we’re not sure if we should be laughing or cringing at the weird lack of respect.

That’s the basic problem here. The film’s intentions are never clear and it’s frantic style hopping from gang wars to first dates makes it an exercise in mixed messages. The only thing in the film that pops is Leoni whose patter with Kingsley actually buzzes the air around this inert comedy just a bit. She’s just about the only character whose dryness passes for wit rather than ineptitude and she acts out of a believable desperation. Her romantic history is only teased in certain comic moments, but there’s at least some sense that she’s got an excuse for all this somehow. Her pain gives her an actual motivation to cling to the less than perfect Frank whereas everyone else seems just haplessly along for the ride.

The Bottom Line:
Even my deep appreciation for the black arts of comedy couldn’t make me love this half-baked hitman with a heart flick. It has a perpetually sour tone and more annoying tics than authentic dark resonance.

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