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If you cringe at the scene, early on, in which two new lovebirds hurl knives at each other, each catching the blades in midair because they’re just so in tune, feel free to walk out of the theater and not look back: Mr. Right is wrong for you. For viewers who can embrace this fizzy blend of mystic-assassin worship and cutesy at-first-sight romance, though, Paco Cabezas‘ action rom-com will be the best thing since Grosse Pointe Blank — thanks almost entirely to leads Sam Rockwell and Anna Kendrick, two thesps so charming they make you pity whatever movie is playing next door at the multiplex. A crowd-pleaser despite its missteps and occasionally because of them, the pic enlivens some stale conceits about killers-for-hire and the women who love them; it should be a commercial breakthrough for the Spanish helmer, whose first American production was the Nicolas Cage bomb Rage, though it will find its share of haters along the way.
A grade-school prelude in which a girl announces that she intends to grow up to be not a doctor or lawyer but a T-Rex foreshadows the wildness lurking inside Martha (Kendrick), who has just dumped her philandering boyfriend and is frightening friends with her drunken plans to “do something terrible.”
Martha doesn’t really get into trouble, though, until she sobers up and attracts the attention of Francis (Rockwell). They meet cute by knocking over a rack of condoms together in a convenience store, and the cute keeps coming: By the end of their spontaneous daylong first date through colorful New Orleans locales, they’re wearing matching t-shirts and valentine-shaped sunglasses. Max Landis’s screenplay gives them the kind of self-consciously clever banter that can go awry very easily (see the screenwriter’s directing debut Me Him Her for an example), but Kendrick and Rockwell are the right kind of actors for this kind of flirting, and they build enough momentum here to carry the picture over the potential speed bumps ahead.
Those obstacles concern Francis’ line of work. He’s a world-famous assassin who, a while back, had a moral epiphany about murder. Now he only kills those who want him to kill other people, which means that a lot of his old business associates — like Tim Roth’s Hopper, currently posing as an FBI agent — want to kill him. Snipers are on his tail even as he courts Martha, and without her noticing it, Francis deftly tangos her out of the line of fire. He’s always dancing, in fact, dodging bullets and attackers’ fists with superhuman grace. As he will eventually explain to Martha, he’s blessed with the ability to feel “this sweeping current” guiding objects through the world, and to flow with it subconsciously. That’s right, fanboys: He’s not just a killer on par with Luc Besson’s Professional, he’s a Jedi.
Martha thinks her suitor’s casual references to killing people are all in fun. When she finally sees him in action, it’s like the moment when you realize your perfect new lover actually does think Donald Trump has some good ideas about how to make America great again. She recoils, but changes her mind soon enough when she sees the kind of bad guys who are out to get him, and realizes they don’t mind kidnapping her to lure him into their sights.
That gang, a stock bunch of bickering thugs each sporting a different sort of leather jacket, is noise here, dimwitted proof that the filmmakers are hoping to make a kind of Big Easy Guy Ritchie flick. The saving grace of this crew is a new recruit played by RZA, perhaps more welcome in this film than in any other since Coffee and Cigarettes. Surveying the scene as a standoff brews between his incompetent gangster bosses and the fancy-stepping virtuoso coming to save his new girlfriend, RZA’s Steve wisely steps aside. This cutesy romance is about to turn very, very bloody, and the smart move is to let the mayhem play out until our (far from helpless) damsel in distress and her Mr. Right are reunited.
Production companies: Circle of Confusion, Amasia Entertainment
Cast: Sam Rockwell, Anna Kendrick, Tim Roth, James Ransone, Anson Mount, Michael Eklund, Katie Nehra, RZA
Director: Paco Cabezas
Screenwriter: Max Landis
Producers: Rick Jacobs, Lawrence Mattis, Michael A. Helfant, Bradley Gallo
Executive producers: Stephen Emery, Max Landis, Avram Butch Kaplan, William C. Gallo, Allen Church, Mark Roberts, Jennifer Dana, Ross Jacobson, Sheldon Rabinowitz
Director of photography: Daniel Aranyo
Production designer: Mara Lepere-Schloop
Costume designer: Jillian Ann Kreiner
Editor: Tom Wilson
Music: Aaron Zigman
Casting director: Orly Sitowitz
No rating, 92 minutes
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