Light touch, fine acting lift comedy 'You Kill Me'

By Michael Sragow
Sun Movie Critic
Originally published June 22, 2007

You Kill Me kills you softly with its smiles.

This scruffy gangster comedy about Frank (Ben Kingsley), an alcoholic hit man for the Polish mob in Buffalo, N.Y., proves that craftiness and hip performances can make a tasty pig-in-a-blanket out of an old and tattered sow's ear.

Sure, there's nothing original in portraying a professional assassin like Frank as a tormented man of honor or a wised-up career gal (Tea Leoni) as his saving grace, Laurel - the amorous laurel he earns for flying cross-country and drying out in San Francisco.

But the director, John Dahl (Red Rock West), and the screenwriters, Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, get sight gags out of materials as apt and simple as a vodka bottle casually dropped into the cushioning Buffalo snow.

These filmmakers boast a tactile command of lower-case depression humor. And Kingsley and Leoni master it with rare cool glee.

Kingsley is so good at his specialty - making dignity charismatic and explosive - that only a few directors have realized how shrewdly funny he can be. (Barry Levinson did, in Bugsy.) Kingsley finds the humor behind a man who can lure the opposite sex with his rough-edged, fraying seriousness. No matter how worn his surface or mysterious his demeanor, he has the confidence of a fellow who knows his own worth.

More important, Dahl and the screenwriters give Leoni a role that taps her intelligent sexiness. She's everything a guy like Frank could want in a woman - interested, aroused and amused.

While the plot splits between Frank getting straight in San Francisco (a funny concept right there) and some Buffalo turf wars, the moviemakers stay focused on their quirky twinned characters. In Buffalo, Roman (Philip Baker Hall), the endearingly grizzled Polish crime boss, struggles to protect his crumbling fiefdom from O'Leary (Dennis Farina), the uproariously swank Irish kingpin. In San Francisco, Tom (Luke Wilson), an amiable gay toll-taker at the Golden Gate Bridge, strives to keep Frank on the straight and narrow while Dave (Bill Pullman), a crooked real estate salesman, tries to put him back into the threat-and-intimidation business.

On the plus side, Dave also lands Frank a mortuary job and, more important, a San Francisco apartment. Indeed, with some cunningly chosen, hilly yet not-too-high-life exteriors, You Kill Me makes San Francisco romantic again by making it seem affordable.

Pullman conjures a regular-guy-gone-wrong aura that's itchily funny (with his glasses squaring off his face, he resembles a misfit version of Joe Scarborough); it's unlike anything he's done before. Wilson's character is like everything he's done before, but, in this context, his laid-back understanding becomes hilarious.

Laurel's acceptance of Frank's occupation deserves more than a witty evisceration of a watermelon and a cavalry-to-the-rescue showdown. But You Kill Me never begs for our sympathy and never goes soft: It practices a higher amorality that mirrors its anti- hero's craftsman-killer code.

>>>You Kill Me (IFC Films) Starring Ben Kingsley, Tea Leoni, Luke Wilson, Bill Pullman. Directed by John Dahl. Rated R. Time 92 minutes.

Ben Kingsley and Bill Pullman in "You Kill Me".



NY Post

June 22, 2007 -- BEN Kingsley, who gave one of his best performances as a hit man in "Sexy Beast," delivers a comic variation on the role in John Dahl's dark, laugh-filled "You Kill Me."

This time he's Frank Falenczyk, a falling-down drunk who literally passes out just before a crucial killing assignment.

Frank's furious Uncle Roman (Philip Baker Hall), who heads the Polish snowplowing racket in Buffalo, has had enough. He orders Frank exiled to San Francisco to dry out under the supervision of a sleazy realtor (Bill Pullman).

Frank is forced to very reluctantly attend AA meetings and go to work as an assistant to a cheery undertaker (Alison Sealy-Smith).

It's through this new way of dealing with dead people that Frank has an unlikely romantic encounter with Laurel (Téa Leoni), an acerbic media sales rep.

Though he has the support of both Laurel and his AA sponsor, Tom (Luke Wilson), a gay toll collector on the Golden Gate Bridge, Frank struggles mightily with his sobriety.

The film's central joke is that neither of them is troubled by Frank's former line of work. Even the folks at the AA meeting are not entirely unsympathetic when Frank announces - in the movie's funniest scene - that he wants to be sober so he can go back to killing people.

Frank's opportunity comes soon enough when events summon him back to Buffalo to deal with the target of the job he botched in he first place, an Irish mobster (Dennis Farina) trying to take over the snowplow racket.

Dahl, who directed the cult favorites "The Last Seduction" and "Red Rock West," is working Coen brothers territory here, and he gets uniformly good performances from a well-chosen cast.

It's the best role in years for Leoni, but "You Kill Me" really belongs to Kingsley, whose character's deadpan reactions to his new environment are priceless. He really kills.

Terminally hilarious.
Running time: 92 minutes. Rated R (violence, profanity). At the Angelika, the Lincoln Square, the Chelsea, others.


You Kill Me

Directed by Malcom Leigh

By Nicolas Rapold The L Magazine

High-concept and very low-impact, You Kill Me is almost quaint in its unassuming take on humanizing a hitman with life-crisis black humor, a gambit so old it’s got whiskers. Ben Kingsley, tending his sideline in bullet-headed gangsters, is Frank, alcoholic iceman for a faded Polish gang bested by a brash Irish mob in Buffalo’s turf wars. After botching a hit on a rival kingpin, he’s shipped to San Francisco to detox. He attends AA, works at prepping corpses in a funeral parlor, and falls for someone (Tea Leoni) as dryly sardonic as he is awkwardly direct.

A modest affair, You Kill Me offers Kingsley the chance to linger over what otherwise might be a side character, and lets director John Dahl revisit with a softer heart, the small scale and odd coupling of underworld and real world that good old The Last Seduction played for devilish castration fantasy. Here the love of a deadpan woman helps keep Frank on his talking-cure track after a toast at a wake ends in a blackout, and the pair loopily bond through his loving lessons in murder techniques (practiced on a melon).

You Kill Me has too plainspoken a manner to puff itself up into something more than it is, but it still sags with a weak script and diminishing expectations. Maybe the biggest treat in this little picture is Bill Pullman (a Seduction alum) as the family friend tasked with keeping an eye on Frank: as a corrupt realtor, he grimaces his way, crazy like a fox, to a dead-on level of skeezy smarm