MSRP: $19.95
RUNNING TIME: 93 Minutes

• Commentary with Director John Dahl and Writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely
• “Behind the Scenes” featurette
• Before & After Visual Effects Comparison
• Theatrical Trailer

The Pitch

Raging alcoholic kills more than just brain cells.

The Humans

Sir Ben Kingsley, Téa Leoni, Luke Wilson, Dennis Farina, Phillip Baker Hall, Bill Pullman

The Nutshell

After alcoholic hitman Frank Falenczyk (Kingsley) sleeps through an important job, his boss Roman (Baker Hall) sends him to San Francisco to dry out. As Frank slowly pulls his life together through the help of twelve steps and one woman (Leoni), the repercussions of his failed hit threaten to draw Frank back home to Buffalo, where a brewing firestorm awaits.

“I’ll show that missing contact lens who’s boss!”

The Lowdown

It’s never a good sign for a comedy when the title itself tries – and fails – to be funny. Not that I don’t enjoy a good pun now and then, but in this case the title doesn’t exactly make a whole lot of sense. Maybe if You Kill Me had been a movie about a comedian who is mistaken for a contract killer, or an expert assassin who enjoys dressing up as a clown, maybe the title might’ve been a marginally clever play on words. But as the moniker this particular film, about a hitman trying to kick a chronic drinking problem, the title doesn’t have much of a double meaning. It’s not so much a play on words as it’s simply words.

I only mention it because the title is very much a reflection of the film itself: You Kill Me flirts with comedy without quite attaining it. That’s not to say the humor in the film is bad. It just never really works as well as it you know it ought to. Like a good joke told poorly, you understand why it’s funny, but you’re not laughing. Screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely (Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe) seem to be of the opinion that establishing a comedic premise is, in and of itself, funny. It’s all setup and no follow-through: To them, a horse walking into a bar is funny enough as it is. No need for the bartender to say a word.

Take, for example, an early scene where our humbled hero Frank finally works up the courage to speak in front of his Alcoholics Anonymous group. In the interest of being open and honest, he tells them the cold, hard truth: he kills people for a living. In fact the only reason he’s trying to get sober, he admits, is because he wants to be a more effective killer. And the support group, under their nominal obligation to be supportive, nods along in silent approval. In theory, this could be a hilarious and bitingly satirical scene, portraying a world where sobriety is valued above all other things, including human life. But in practice, the scene has no punchline, no moment where the joke crystallizes into something more than just an amusing notion. Frank simply talks, and the group simply listens.

“This year’s pumpkin shortage has made Halloween a lot less fun…”

Much of the blame has to fall on the shoulders of director John Dahl, who by now is running dangerously low on residual Rounders cred. Dahl aims for a very dry, understated style of comedy, which requires a deft hand tonally. Dahl simply isn’t able to negotiate that tightrope: He establishes a dour, somber tone in the film’s opening scenes, and then is never quite able to shift gears once the comedy gets going. Scenes that ought to play as sly and ironic often come off as deathly serious.

But despite the movie’s stillborn sense of humor (or maybe because of it), there’s still a whole lot to like here. Viewed as a drama, You Kill Me is surprisingly effective, and its portrayal of a recovering alcoholic struggling to stay on the wagon rings true, never once straying into melodrama. The movie is at its best when it shows us Frank’s daily struggle to maintain his sobriety, with his private triumphs and personal milestones followed by setbacks and recoveries, and punctuated by moments of sheer, terrifying temptation. There is something very charming about watching this callous, unfeeling killer slowly beginning to open up and accept his shortcomings, especially when Frank reaches Step 2 of the program and must acknowledge the existence of a higher power. His choice in deities is… well, inspired.

The performances are all top-notch, especially Kingsley as the down-and-out hitman Frank. Kingsley’s career might not be what it once was, and sure his accent slips in and out, but he can still act the hell out of a scene. Leoni is also very good as Laurel, a very lonely woman with a very on-the-nose name. Also solid are Bill Pullman, Luke Wilson and Phillip Baker Hall in supporting roles. But the real standout here is Dennis Farina as the rival mob boss, gleefully devouring the scenery and threatening to steal the movie each time he appears. Farina is drifting into DeNiro self-parody territory here, although with Farina it’s difficult to tell. At the very least, he seems to be the only actor here who realizes he’s supposed to be in a comedy.

Sadly, hitting a corpse with your fist and doing your best Fonzie impression is not enough to resuscitate a man.

It’s hard to recommend a movie that so thoroughly fails to achieve what it sets out to do, namely to be funny. But I can’t deny that I enjoyed You Kill Me on a purely dramatic level. If you’re willing to forgive the occasional comedic meandering here and there, it might be worth your time. Just don’t expect to laugh much.

The Package

First things first: Enough with the puns, IFC. We’ve already established that the title’s play on words makes no logical sense, but when two out of the three blurbs on the packaging are also lame puns, you’re really pushing your luck. “You’ll DIE laughing!” “A KILLER comedy!” Yeah, it’s a comedy about a guy who kills people, we get it.

The commentary track with director John Dahl and screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely is the disc’s main bonus feature, and although it’s not too in-depth, the three of them are very talkative, and never at a loss for topics of conversation. The writers tend to dominate the track, so the commentary is pretty light on production anecdotes and filmmaking discussion, focusing more about the inspirations for the screenplay.

There is a ten minute EPK-style featurette about the making of the film which is, as expected, an endless parade of mutual backslapping. To give you an idea: At one point, Ben Kingsley refers to Téa Leoni as “our modern-day Katherine Hepburn.” Yes, he was serious.

“Look gang! I’m a hitman, and I’m in my underwear! Aren’t I wacky? Wakka wakka!”

Also on the disc is a five-minute featurette about the 230(!) effects shots in the film, with Visual Effects Supervisor Chris Irvin. Aside from a few squibs here and there, you wouldn’t think this movie would need a Visual Effects supervisor, but in an effort to cut costs, the film was shot in and around Winnipeg, which doubles for both Buffalo and San Francisco. CGI snow was added for the Buffalo sequence, and the Transamerica building and Golden Gate Bridge were inserted into the backgrounds of the San Francisco scenes. Watching the film, I would have never guessed they filmed the movie in Canada, though this probably has less to do with the quality of the special effects, and more to do with the fact that I’ve never been to either Buffalo or San Francisco. They could’ve shot the movie in Lagos Nigeria, I still probably wouldn’t have known the difference.

Finally there’s the ubiquitous theatrical trailer, which essentially takes every joke in the movie, crams them into two minutes, and adds upbeat music and wacky sound effects. Sadly, it’s funnier than the film.

7.2 out of 10