The independent hitman comedy used to be more of a thing. Back in the fall out of Pulp Fiction, the concept of a quirky movie centered around men hired to kill became pretty common and played out by the dawn of the new millennium after reaching an arguable peak with 1997’s Grosse Point Blank. While no reaching the heights of the latter, Mr. Right manages to take a tired cliche and give it an enjoyable turn. There’s an admitted rocky start, mainly with some shaky introductions to our leads. Between a hyperactive slouch played by Anna Kendrick and a killer with a confused moral code played by Sam Rockwell, the darkly humorous tone often seems far too cartoonish initially for anyone to truly feel invested. On their own, these characters feel like they could be far more tired and strained as comedic premises than these actors deserve.
Yet, once Rockwell and Kendrick have a meet-cute that pretty much cuts the usual romantic comedy bullshit, things manage to feel warmer and more well rounded. Instead of straining for the typical rom com formula, the misunderstandings and connections occur more naturally, albeit through the lens of screenwriter Max Landis‘ quirky dialogue. Rockwell and Kendrick hold the film together so well that the more hyper over the top elements become far more believable in their hands, managing to strengthen each other in a believable way as their connection builds over a small amount of time. This culminates in a scene where Rockwell helps Kendrick hone her underdeveloped natural talents by teaching her how to catch knives. It sounds much cuter than it sounds. The two even manage to make some of the weaker secondary plot elements more enjoyable as the film builds up to its energetically violent finale, including a rather underwhelming Tim Roth performance and a middling subplot involving the organized crime element in New Orleans. If anything, Rockwell’s warm personality and Kendrick’s surprising progression through the second and third acts heighten those elements. It’s an infectious adorable sense of vibrant likability that emanates from those two, which spreads to some of the supporting cast. Honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised if Sam Rockwell’s likability inspired actor/rapper RZA to pull off one of the few performances of his career that I’d describe as “good.”
Director Paco Cabezas handles the action heavy sequences with some turbulence. The conceit of Sam Rockwell’s character using a sort of dance style to kill these hires wishing to assassinated people is enjoyable to watch at times, mainly due to Rockwell’s rather underrated ability to convey such fun energy through his fancy footwork. Yet, the editing and brutality is often muffled in its effect by the camerawork not displaying the movement. There’s slow mo, jumbled constant cuts and some pretty obvious CG blood squibs that soften the blows that are crucial for a film so heavy on the morality of death and who dies. The action often hits on a more engaging level when coming from a sense of character. Mainly, when Rockwell is hit yet – as a skilled former hitman for hire – manages to commend the abilities of those who have hit him. It backs up the lesser action with character driven appreciation that fills in more endearing blanks than such action honestly deserves.
With Mr. Right, there’s a clear scrappiness to some of the choices made. It’s dealing with familiar territory and with some lesser execution on the end of action. Yet, the strength of the performances and written actions for Sam Rockwell and Anna Kendrick gives a spring in the step of these lesser moments, which is key to enjoying the steps in their relationship. In many ways, this feels like a better execution of themes familiar to Max Landis’ previous scripted effort American Ultra, with a lack of trust between partners, intriguing subversions of action tropes and small progression for side characters. While not a top tier effort for the year and an unsurprising lesser pull in the box office, Mr. Right deserves more of a chance to see for it’s endearing adorable energy… even if that energy is often spent killing people.
Rating: 3.5 Out of 5 Clown Noses
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