If you’ve been longing for a return to the late 90s, when every Blockbuster Video in America was glutted with darkly comic crime thrillers chasing the “Pulp Fiction” gold, then “Mr. Right” has your ticket. The film’s screenplay is such a throwback to the heady days of “8 Heads in a Duffel Bag,” “2 Days in the Valley,” and “Things to Do in Denver When You’re Dead,” it’s hard to believe it was written by wunderkind Max Landis, who was a mere 15 years old when the Y2K crisis permanently jolted the country from its Tarantino-induced stupor.
As is requisite for a movie of this sort, “Mr. Right” centers on a hitman (Sam Rockwell)—actually, in this case, a “reverse hitman” who kills the people who attempt to hire him—who carries out his vicious duties with an impish nonchalance, by which I mean he wears a clown nose and looks sort of bored. The hitman falls for an adorable young kook (Anna Kendrick) who’s just dumped her philandering boyfriend. And she falls for him. She discovers he’s a hitman. She doesn’t approve. They become embroiled in a bit of intrigue that is both convoluted and not very interesting.
“Mr. Right,” then, is not a terribly original film. Even the brief synopsis I’ve outlined above has probably reminded many readers of “Gross Pointe Blank” (perhaps the best of the post-”Pulp Fiction” hitman comedies), and, if one needs further evidence that this film has taken more than a few pages from the Tarantino playbook, I would point out that it features Tim Roth in a black suit and tie.
A lack of originality, however, is the least of “Mr. Right”’s problems. The much bigger issue is that the film is sloppily made from soup to nuts. In the right hands, Landis’s screenplay might have worked, but director Paco Cabezas steps on the comedy, botches the action, and just generally seems to have little understanding of how to make this material work. Every scene feels rushed through and haphazardly staged, and Cabezas gives no space to his performers. It would be impossible to completely dull the charm of performers as likable as Rockwell and Kendrick—the latter of whom does her damnedest to lend the film a bit of energy—but Cabezas never allows them to establish a rapport. Kendrick’s manic oddball and Rockwell’s insouciant killer seem like a promising pairing, but they never really get a chance to click.
If “Mr. Right” were ever going to work, it would be by sitting back and allowing Rockwell and Kendrick to get loose and bounce off each other, but rather than focusing on the central relationship, the film attempts to coast on its “irreverent” attitude, as if the mere idea of a hitman who coolly discusses gummi bears just before storming a house full of armed men were enough to carry the film. Unfortunately, the action is just as carelessly executed as the comedy. Cabezas leans heavily on gimmicky slo-mo and obvious body doubles, giving the film’s various shootouts a cheap, disposable quality that’s only exacerbated by a generic score and cheesy music cues.