Keeping the viewer agreeably off-kilter, John Dahl’s latest walk on the wild side, like the director’s “Last Seduction” or “Joy Ride,” get serious comedic mileage from playing noirish absurdities deadpan-straight. With an eclectic mix of strong-minded thesps all pulling in slightly different directions, this shape-shifting genre hybrid successfully commingles 12-step therapy, romantic comedy and hit-man thriller. Skedded by IFC for June 22 wide release, “You Kill Me” should appeal to those who like their humor (and love stories) quietly outrageous.
Kingsley plays Frank Falenczyk, a hitman for his extended Polish family in Buffalo, N.Y., where they control the all-important snowplow franchise. Always submissive to family tradition, Frank unquestioningly accepts his assassin role, taking pride in the methodical execution of his craft. He is also a full-time alcoholic, which increasingly wreaks havoc on his work: After literally falling asleep on the job of eliminating Irish rival O’Leary (Denis Farina), his uncle/boss Roman (Philip Baker Hall) sends him to San Francisco to sober up — or else.
There, he falls in with a motley assortment of friends, foes and minders, including a laid-back gay AA sponsor (Luke Wilson) and a sleazeball real-estate broker (Bill Pullman). In a part-time gig at a funeral parlor, Frank discovers the joys of teamwork with wryly appreciative mortician Doris (Alison Sealy-Smith) and a hitherto unrealized talent for dealing with corpses after the fact. In an improbable relationship with high-powered media sales exec Laurel (Tea Leoni), he finds the love of his life.
Meanwhile, Frank’s missed Irish mark has raised sufficient Chinese financial backing to squeeze out the Poles in a blaze of ethnocentric gunfire.
A dime a dozen nowadays, hitmen and their problems are treated sardonically (in “Grosse Point Blank”) or farcically (in “Analyze This” and the underrated “The Matador”). Nevertheless, writing duo Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely (“The Chronicles of Narnia”) have interwoven the disparate strands of their script with considerable ingenuity. Dahl’s understated choreography stresses his actors’ individual grace notes, inviting immersion in the pic’s incongruities. Pic’s ironies are not lost on the characters themselves: When Laurel and Frank arrive at the inevitable musical montage of treasured “couple” moments, they share a watermelon to practice their stabbing and slitting.
Laurel, in Leoni’s consummately breezy perf, needs no backstory to explain her odd attraction to Frank, his lack of social skills and strange mix of vulnerable candor and hit-man pragmatism guaranteeing that — unlike just about everybody she knows — he harbors no hidden agenda.
Ultimately, however, it is Kingsley’s awkward, taciturn Frank who holds the film together, his physical presence dominating the frame as he awkwardly flounders to control his surroundings in the absence of any specific directives. Emerging from alcoholic stupor into fish-out-of-water sobriety, he begins to acquire a certain lumbering ease and a dry sense of humor.
Pic’s most hilariously memorable moments come during AA meetings. Initially, Frank’s exquisite discomfort over members’ soul-baring is matched only by his clueless, almost aggressive lack of tact. His first AA confessional movingly reveals his heartfelt desire to stop drinking so he can go back to the work he loves — murdering people. The dumbfounded reaction of his home group, torn between horror and support, is worth the price of admission.
Tech credits are accomplished. Lensing by Dahl regular Jeffrey Jur and mock-sprightly folk-Polish score by Marcelo Zarvos smoothly transitions from gang wars to AA meetings.