“Hitman” is probably the most disproportionately over-represented profession in movies, at least over the medium’s last half-century. “Killers Anonymous” is one of those occasional films that attempt novelty by having a character cast of nothing but hitmen — which isn’t really all that much of a novelty, for the above-noted reason.
This latest entry in the cluttered annals of vaguely Tarantino-esque neo-noir criminal capers doesn’t take itself particularly seriously. But it doesn’t strike an assertively comic tone either, resulting in a superficially colorful but hollow pile of contrivances that are neither clever nor convincing enough to achieve more than time-passing diversion. Lionsgate is opening Martin Owen’s third feature, a U.S.-U.K. co-production, on 13 U.S. screens simultaneous with on-demand launch.
After a brief Los Angeles prelude in which we’re introduced to the notion of the titular 12-step-type group for assassins, we follow Gary Oldman’s meeting facilitator to London. There, he meets up in a pub with a biker-styled lesbian hitwoman (an unlikely Jessica Alba) eager to explain why it’s not her fault she bungled a recent job. She sticks around following this interview to frisk with a flirtatious exotic dancer (co-writer Elizabeth Morris), but it turns out the latter has something rather less friendly in mind.
Meanwhile a U.S. senator and presidential candidate (Sam Hazeldine) has been an assassination target on an overseas visit. This leaves London crawling with police, and forces an emergency meeting of Killers Anonymous’ local chapter, held in a secret lair below a church. The briskly empathetic Jo (MyAnna Buring) is chair. Also in attendance are garrulous Ben (Elliot James Langridge), quietly edgy Leo (Michael Socha), overbearing Krystal (Morris), creepy doctor Calvin (Tim McInnerny) and brutish Markus (Tommy Flanagan).
Contract killers all, they’re highly suspicious when a nervous newbie shows up in the form of Alice (Rhyon Nicole Brown), whose purported reasons for joining this crew of variably-remorseful compulsive murderers isn’t revealed until an hour in. While the assembled ponder her presence, as well as the heat brought down by that political shooting, they share some of their backstories in AA-like fashion. They’re also unknowingly being spied on — not just by Oldman’s character, using binoculars and listening devices from a safe distance, but also a young woman (Isabelle Allen) who’s hiding within the hideout itself.
DP Havard Helle and production designer Cassandra Surina dress up the film in an array of garishly candy-hued color schemes that are wholly gratuitous. But that strategy does succeed fairly well in distracting you from the fact that — digressions and flashbacks aside — most of this movie consists of a few characters sitting in one basement room, talking about things they did elsewhere. (It doesn’t really make much sense that whenever they take a break, they’re suddenly up on the building’s roof.)
The trouble is that none of that talk is particularly funny, though it evidently aspires to be, and the plot revelations seem inconsequentially random rather than ingenious. Eventually some characters are revealed to be other than what they seemed. But they weren’t convincing in the first place, and only become less so. The film is smoothly directed enough to neutralize what ought to be wild tonal shifts, yet that doesn’t mean they cohere: “Killers Anonymous” careens from arch “Reservoir Dogs”-meets-Brit-gangster terrain to a serious stretch about child abuse, then on to some action (finally) via a last few minutes of deliberately over-the-top mayhem.
None of these things fit together. Still, for better or worse, the stakes are never high enough that it really matters. Even as a kind of complicated genre homage, this movie is so inorganic we soon stop expecting it to be suspenseful, credible, or even logical. It’s just competent actors unconvincingly play-acting toughs (the “name” ones getting little screentime) amid a stimulating profusion of colored lighting gels.
Which isn’t much — but as such exercises in self-conscious crime melodrama go, “Killers” could be a lot worse. We’ve all seen a case or two of wannabe-Tarantino-ism bad enough to cause mental pain. This one is shiny and pacey enough that it’s over before you’ve fully registered that you’re not quite sure “what happened,” or if you care enough to figure it out.
Among packaging elements generally superior to any content in the package, Roger Goula’s score hits a semi-camp, retro caper-cum-spaghetti-western note. It’s as viable a choice as any, even if the film it supports rarely commits to that particular tenor, or any other for that matter. “Killers Anonymous” is a pastiche, which is all right. But its sewn-together borrowed parts certainly don’t become something seamless, while on the other hand it lacks the courage to actually emphasize those crazy-quilt seams, and turn sheer artificiality into an absurdist adventure.