The slapstick assassin at the center of “A Hitman’s Solitude Before the Shot” isn’t the only one whose aim is off. German helmer Florian Mischa Boder clearly wants this silly-minded misfire, about a contract killer so out of practice he botches his first big assignment, to play like a cross between a classic Blake Edwards farce and the recent “OSS 117” spy-movie spoofs (with a soupcon of Ronald Neame’s “Hopscotch” thrown in), but leading man Benno Furmann lacks either the charisma or the comic timing to pull it off. It’s an opportunity missed in an overplayed genre, and will limit this Locarno Piazza Grande selection to mostly local play.
A Teuton star with a certain Tom Hardy-like intensity about him, Furmann is handsome, but hardly convincing as the eponymous hitman, Koralnik, who’s gone a bit stir-crazy in the eight years since he was recruited to serve on a super-secret European anti-terrorist squad. After 9/11, he and four other sharpshooters were tapped to go deep undercover, awaiting missions of vital national security. But the phone never rang, and now he spends his days leaving messages on his own answering machine and fantasizing about bumping off his more obnoxious neighbors.
Entering his life out of the blue, poor Rosa (Mavie Horbiger) couldn’t possibly know about Koralnik’s itchy trigger finger when she targeted him for her latest con. Pretending to be an African aid worker, she accidentally rear-ends his car in a parking lot and invites herself over for a date, which goes as awkwardly as screenwriter Clemente Fernandez-Gil can manage without featuring so much as one believable moment between them. (Only a professional liar would be wiling to look past his hastily invented, completely implausible cover story.)
Hoping it will ease the tension, she slips two pills into Koralnik’s drink at precisely the wrong moment: The hitman finally gets that long-awaited call from dispatch just as the drugs are kicking in, which means he won’t be able to drive — much less carry out the assignment — without Rosa’s help. And so begins a daffy road trip from Germany to Belgium, where Koralnik has been ordered to eliminate someone who, it doesn’t take a genius to realize, isn’t as straightforward a target as he might have expected.
If the klutzy Koralnik is indeed one of Europe’s best contract killers, what does that say of those who weren’t taken off the streets and stuck in the same elite program? While his impatience is understandable, perhaps he’s helping national security after all by staying home waiting for the phone to ring. Though considerably more competent than its characters, the sleek-looking pic offers no compelling evidence to support Koralnik’s professionalism, revealing him to be a buffoon from the very beginning, when a miscalculation during his woefully unfunny “audition” assignment forces him to kill an innocent witness.
It’s not even clear why his character is a hitman at all, apart from the fact that an entire tired subgenre contemplating the personal lives of professional killers sprung up in the wake of “Pulp Fiction” and “Leon,” both released in 1994, and a full two decades later, this one isn’t imaginative enough to invent a more compelling reason for us to care about someone like Koralnik. Here, the idea seems to be that instead of wasting his life for such a silly cause, Koralnik should really consider getting out and meeting people, though the script might have seriously benefited from a more rapid-fire screwball dynamic between him and Rosa.