A return to form of sorts for John Dahl after his epic World War Two flop The Great Raid, You Kill Me is a short, sharp, mordant little mob comedy about a Buffalo hitman on hiaitus from killing in San Francisco and trying to overcome a drinking problem.
Boasting quirky performances by Ben Kingsley and Tea Leoni, it has a shot at making a minor impression in specialised markets, thanks to Kingsley's name, Dahl's pedigree and some favourable critical response.
The tone falls somewhere between the bleakness of Blood Simple and the brighter crime comedy of Married To The Mob. Gloomily lit by Jeffrey Jur, it is nevertheless a generally playful affair which enjoys blending romcom conventions with casual and frequent murder.
Kingsley plays Frank Falenczyk, the hitman of a Polish mob family in Buffalo, New York, who loves his job as the fixer of family problems. However, when he sleeps through the scheduled killing of Irish mobster Edward O'Leary (Farina) as a result of his hard drinking, his uncle Roman Krzeminski (Baker Hall) reprimands him and sends him off to San Francisco to get sober, or face his own death.
Somewhat of a loner and definitely a man of few words, Frank is bewildered by his punishment and, once in San Francisco, loathes his new routine of AA meetings and an honest day-job in the mortuary. However, he is watched over by family friend Dave (Pullman), who makes it clear that should he fall off the wagon, Roman will find out immediately.
Slowly, Frank comes out of his shell. At the meetings, he is befriended by Tom (Wilson), a gay toll-taker on the Golden Gate Bridge, who becomes his sponsor and helps him get over the drinking. He meets a woman Laurel (Leoni) in the mortuary, whose offbeat manner and unconventional opinions appeal to him and he asks her out on a date.
Eventually he confesses to both Tom and Laurel that he kills people for a living, and even goes so far as to announce it in a meeting. They accept him for who he is. 'Nobody's perfect,' says Laurel, echoing Joe E Brown in Some Like It Hot. Meanwhile he helps Dave out by intimidating a city official on a real-estate deal and feels happy that he is getting back into the violence game.
But when Laurel says that's he needs to slow down the relationship, he panics and turns to the bottle. Realising that it could never work out, he sets off back to Buffalo to help the family, which is being terrorised at the hands of O'Leary, the man he should have assassinated. Laurel, meanwhile, decides that she cannot live without him and follows him.
Ever effective, Kingsley channels several of his previous gangster incarnations - The Rabbi from last year's Lucky Number Slevin, Don Logan from Sexy Beast, Meyer Lansky from Bugsy. Leoni is more surprising here, making her kooky Laurel sweet in her desperation for romance with a man. Even a killer will suffice, so long as he's not gay.
If Dahl doesn't opt for any visual fireworks in his unironic storytelling, he enlists a colourful and lively music score from the talented Marcelo Zarvos, an increasingly prolific composer who has created memorable scores for Hollywoodland and The Good Shepherd among others.
Echo Lake Productions
Zvi Howard Rosenman
Philip Baker Hall