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Movie Review

Frank Falenczyk has a problem.

No, no, it's not his job as a hit man. He's cool with all that. It's the drinking that's getting to him. He swills alcohol like a Formula 1 car swills high-octane gasoline; he can't even finish shoveling snow from his front porch without taking a few pulls from a vodka bottle.

But when Frank is sent to kill a rival Buffalo, N.Y., crime boss and instead passes out in his car, Frank's Polish family/crime syndicate decides enough is enough: "All you had to do was kill him!" boss Roman Krzeminski says. If Frank doesn't kick the habit, Roman says, the family will have to fire him—in more ways than one. So they ship Frank off to San Francisco to get some help.

Dave, a friend of the Krzeminski family, gets Frank an apartment, a job as an undertaker's assistant, and arranges for him to attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings nearby. At first, Frank is nonplussed by it all. He thinks the whole setup is as ludicrous as a presidential debate featuring Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan. With Jessica Simpson as moderator. Alcohol's been a part of Frank's life for decades: Giving it up would be like booting his best friend.

When Tom, Frank's AA sponsor, tells Frank that he's got to want to quit drinking, Frank says, "Part of me does."

"Which part?" Tom asks.

"A part I don't like," Frank says.

But Frank's attitude takes a turn when he meets Laurel Pearson, a high-powered advertising rep who, outlandishly, takes a shine to the taciturn undertaker. Love is a new thing for the hit man: He never knew there were things to live for outside drinking and killing. Plus, Frank reasons, he'll be a much better killer if he stops drinking so much. So, with these newfound realizations, Frank makes some eye-popping confessions to practically anyone who'll listen: His sponsor, his girlfriend, his entire AA group.

"That's why I'm here," Frank informs Tom. "So I can get cleaned up and go back to killing people full time."

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Positive Elements

Frank has his issues. But throughout this film you see him experiencing a new world of love and friendship he thought was forbidden for someone like him, and it stirs something deep inside his curmudgeonly soul.

For one thing, he regrets the sloppy way he did his job for so many years: He wasn't quick, precise and painless enough. "I don't regret killing them, just killing them badly," he grimaces. So he sends $50 gift cards to his victims' families. "There are many rewards that flow from making amends," he tells Laurel.

OK, so that's not exactly positive. But in the film's darkly satirical vein, it is a start, as is Frank's sudden commitment to honesty. He tells Laurel about his drinking problem on their first date. "It seemed important to start off honest," he tells her, and for the most part, he holds true to that promise. Frank also cares deeply for his family—crime syndicate though it might be. "I had a choice," he tells his AA group. "Drinking or them." A fellow AA'er says she's glad she battles the condition because it helps her go through life "thankful."

While Frank falls off the wagon a few times, he shows tenacity in climbing back on. Both Tom and Laurel give Frank the support and, in Laurel's case, the love he needs to keep going.

[Spoiler Warning] In the end, Frank gives up his bloody career. (But he doesn't stop wearing stocking caps.)

Spiritual Content

Frank deals with spirituality in his own, twisted way. Belief in God (or a godlike entity) plays an important role in AA programs, but Frank tells Tom that the last time he "saw" God was at his first communion, and that God probably wouldn't have any interest in someone like him, anyway. Tom tells Frank that his god doesn't need to be the God—just something big and solid and good. Frank chooses the Golden Gate Bridge as his own deified focal point, and at one point tells it, "God, I could really use a hand now."

Dave, meanwhile, says that in San Francisco, "a real estate agent is God, and that's what I am: A real estate agent." He also snoops through Frank's apartment and, finding no liquor hidden anywhere, announces that Frank is living like "a Mormon."

Intoxicated mourners say "God bless you" to Frank for making their dearly departed friend look so good—shortly before they get him drunk and, later, abandon him. Their car has a statue of the Virgin Mary sitting on the dashboard, and a comment is made about attending mass the next day. Frank, Laurel and Tom intentionally mangle the "Serenity Prayer."

Sexual Content

When Frank and Laurel are "shown" having intimate relations, the only thing viewers can see is their feet, and the camera's in an adjoining room. Laurel makes (extremely) sly references to erectile dysfunction, necrophilia and anatomical size.

Tom greets Frank by telling him that he comes to AA because it's a "good place to meet guys." One of Laurel's first questions for Frank is whether or not he's gay. (He's not.) Frank asks Laurel if she's pregnant. (She's not, but the brief conversation devolves into the particulars of how she might become so without having sex.) One AA member talks about how he used to drink it up and sex it up during his partying days. An intoxicated (and elderly) mourner makes a pass at Frank.

We watch as a gangster's wife shows off a bikini outside a store dressing room.

Violent Content

Frank strips down to his underwear before pulling a gun on a city official, hoping to intimidate him. And he carries out one point-blank shooting at the end of the film. While "practicing" his "killer moves," he trains Laurel to also be a killer. And both commit heinous acts of violence on an innocent watermelon. Laurel does hold one (real) thug at knifepoint and sequesters two gang members in the trunk of her car.

[Spoiler Warning] Roman Krzeminski knocks out one of his family members with the butt of a shotgun, sending him tumbling down a set of stairs. The remainder of the Krzeminski clan is then gunned down in a largely bloodless but noisy and brutal shootout. Rival gang leader Edward O'Leary shoots Roman in the head. The audience sees the murder through Roman's eyes, with the barrel of the gun pointing directly at the camera.

Crude or Profane Language

The f-word is used more than 20 times and the s-word about 10. Close to 20 other—separate—swear words are used in all, if one includes crude and obscene slang references to male and female genitalia. Variations on the word "a--" are particular favorites of the film's characters, who also blurt out "Jesus," "god," "d--n" and "g--d--n."

Drug and Alcohol Content

You Kill Me is about alcoholism, and alcoholic beverages get almost as much screen time as star Ben Kingsley. In the opening scene, Frank drinks straight from a bottle of vodka. In the climactic showdown boss O'Leary slams down glasses of alcohol as Frank watches, then throws a third tumblerful in Frank's face. In between we see numerous scenes containing numerous characters drinking or drunk.

But the film doesn't laugh at "happy drunks." Rather, booze is the primary villain, and characters under its sway are shown, without exception, at their worst. When Frank breaks his newfound sobriety the first time, he misses dinner with Laurel, wrecks a minivan and winds up facedown on the street in the rain. The second time it happens, an equally inebriated Dave walks up to him and—from the bottom of his heart—calls him a "loser."

Eventually, we see Frank receive a one-year sobriety pin from AA. His voice cracks when he comes to the podium and says, "My name's Frank, and I'm an alcoholic."

Other Negative Elements

Frank contemplates suicide, climbing over the edge of the Golden Gate Bridge before changing his mind and reversing course.

A few scenes that take place at the funeral home feel disrespectful. A dead man's feet are broken so they'll fit in a pair of stolen bowling shoes, for instance, because Laurel can't find his own favorite pair of shoes.

Frank's gangland family is of Polish descent, and there are occasional references to "Polacks" throughout. But Poles get off easy compared to the city of Buffalo itself, which becomes the subject of several toss-away jokes. "Drinking is a pretty obvious thing to do in Buffalo," Frank says dryly. Fans of New York's "other" city should be duly warned!

Conclusion

You Kill Me is a smartly self-aware gangland comedy/thriller with spot-on performances and a nearly gentle heart. The comedy is so quirky and subversive that if you didn't know you were watching a comedy, you still wouldn't know a half-hour in. Ben Kingsley, meanwhile, is so good at disappearing into Frank that if you didn't know Kingsley was starring, you might actually leave the theater still wondering who played that craggy-faced drunk guy.

As the R rating would suggest, the film has some pretty serious content issues. Violence is rare but real and sometimes brutal. Swearing is pervasive. And, of course, the literal takeaway moral is backhanded at best: Drinking is bad, the story says. Killing, not so much. Our hero is a hit man, and no apologies are made for that.

But You Kill Me doesn't so much glorify, or even accept, Frank's career choice as much as it uses it as a vehicle into the ludicrous. You Kill Me is satire: It reminded me more of Cary Grant's classic 1940s comedy Arsenic and Old Lace (wherein Grant's eccentric aunts do their house guests the "favor" of poisoning them) than the modern, bloody, shoot-'em-up gangster flick. But while Arsenic was a slapstick lark, You Kill Me attempts to use its dark sense of humor to savage a real problem—alcoholism—ending up squarely on the side of sobriety.

Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

Christian Beliefs

Other Belief Systems

Authority Roles

Profanity/Violence

Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality

Discussion Topics

Additional Comments/Notes

Episode Reviews

Credits

Rating

R

Readability Age Range

Author

Cast

Ben Kingsley as Frank Falenczyk; Téa Leoni as Laurel Pearson; Luke Wilson as Tom; Bill Pullman as Dave; Philip Baker Hall as Roman Krzeminski

Director

John Dahl ( The Great RaidJoy Ride)

Distributor

IFC Films

Network

Performance

Record Label

Platform

Publisher

In Theaters

On Video

Year Published

Awards

Reviewer

Paul Asay

We hope this review was both interesting and useful. Please share it with family and friends who would benefit from it as well.

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