As titles go, it's not a dealmaker. But "You Kill Me" sets the tone and mood of John Dahl's dry, goofy and only somewhat violent hit-man comedy.
It stars onetime "Sexy Beast" Ben Kingsley as a Polish-American hit-man with a vodka problem. Frank screws up a hit in his native Buffalo, and his brother, the snowplow kingpin (Philip Baker Hall), sends him to San Francisco to "dry out."
That's where Frank attends Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, and finds a gay sponsor (Luke Wilson). That's where family friend, the realtor (an unglued Bill Pullman), keeps an eye on him and sets him up as a mortician-in-training.
And that's how he meets Laurel Pearson, a quirky, quick and clever single woman looking for a straight man in a city not known to have those in abundance.
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"You're not gay, are you?" She blurts that out at every odd moment when it seems the frankly homely Frank might be hesitating. And since she's played by Tea Leoni, the very definition of quirky, quick and clever, the zinger zings.
Dahl first came to fame with just this sort of odd spin on Hollywood genres. "Red Rock West," "The Last Seduction," "Rounders," "Joy Ride" - all darkly funny and twisted. Or at least twisted. He has a winner of a script here, by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely (TV's "The Life and Death of Peter Sellers"). With guys like Bill Pullman saying their lines, what could have been a tired hit-man-wants-to-go-straight comedy becomes laugh-out-loud funny.
"In a town with a 2 percent vacancy rate," the would-be tough guy Pullman growls, "the real estate agent is God." The realtor looks in on the hit-man - spies on him, actually. "You roll your socks," he says, after one once-over. "You floss. You don't hide liquor in the toilet. You live like a Mormon."
Frank may sneer the obligatory "I kill people" as a conversation-stopper to anyone who asks. But the movie's joke is the way it sends up and embraces (at arm's length) the various AA credos - "One day at a time," "I need to make amends."
Because we never really know that Frank wants to change his career, or even that he wants to sober up. If he does, Laurel brings that out in him.
And if she sees the damaged goods that he is, at least he's not the jerk stepfather she brought to his funeral home to bury.
There's a plotline about Frank's Old Mob Polish family losing its final pieces of turf to the Irish mob (Dennis Farina, menacing as ever) that gives the movie its violent bookends. But "You Kill Me," while it's no "Prizzi's Honor" or even "Grosse Pointe Blank," finds ironic fun in a guy who needs AA and the love of a good (well, good and weird) woman to change his life.
It may not kill you. But it's guaranteed to at least tickle, just a bit.
4 stars (out of 5)
R for language and some violence