(USA, 90 min.)
Dir. Paco Cabezas, Writ. Max Landis
Starring: Sam Rockwell, Anna Kendrick, Tim Roth, James Ransone, RZA
Trips through the dating world often bring a little baggage. Maybe a prospective mate has some weird habits, like eating tin foil or couch cushion stuffing, or perhaps someone seems like the perfect match until he or she pulls out a bunch of kids that one just isn’t ready to raise. Alternatively, maybe, like Martha (Anna Kendrick) experiences when she finds Mr. Right, her perfect man kills people for a living. That’s some awfully big baggage, but Martha, in typically endearing Anna Kendrick fashion, brushes off Mr. Right’s blood-spattered shortcoming with a hop, skip, and a shrug.
Mr. Right’s titular perfect gentleman is Francis (Sam Rockwell), a shaggy dog of a contract killer with a few loose screws and noble intentions. He’s funny, charming, smooth, and just a little creepy, so it’s no wonder that Martha sees him as the ideal rebound for her recent break-up. They click.
Francis, though, kills people for money. The difference between Francis and ordinary hit-people is that he kills the folks who hire him to whack their foes. It’s some convoluted logic that makes sense in its own perverse and slightly off-kilter way. In short, it’s just a carry-on bag for Martha to deal with in the grand carousel of dating luggage metaphors.
When Mr. Right bumps people off for a living, though, he inevitably becomes the target of competing baddies. Enter Von Cartigan (James Ransone), a kooky FBI guy (Tim Roth), and a gummy bear eating gunman called Shotgun Steve (RZA) and their courtship becomes a crazy, bullet-ridden adventure. The real test of Martha and Francis’s relationship is a basic game of survival: kill or be killed, but kill only to save a life.
Director Paco Cabezas balances about three different movies swimming together in Mr. Right as Martha and Francis play The Dating Game à la Mr. & Mrs. Smith. Mr. Right is a dark and funny caper with a layer of sweetness underneath smatterings of blood. One almost wishes for Cabezas to amp the crazy up a notch and make Mr. Right both an all-out bloodbath and completely loony in the vein of Seven Psychopaths, but the film nevertheless works as a sweetly innocent anti-rom-com that puts conventional ideas of happily-ever-after in the crosshairs. The innocence of the romance, similarly, helps the film’s critique of violence while acknowledging that, like Martha, people sometimes become attracted to the adrenaline-high of violence.
The film dabbles in self-awareness, too, as the wink-wink humour plays with the mish-mash of genres. It defies conventions of romantic comedies, but also plays with the audience’s expectations to leave them hoping for an ending that’s more Pretty Woman than Bonnie & Clyde as Francis’s thug life puts Martha in trouble—and gives her a taste for living dangerously. Mr. Right’s manic energy sometimes gets the better of it as stylishly choreographed fights and smokin’ dance moves, and it might be more annoying than endearing depending on one’s mood, but the performances keep it on target like two laser sights waltzing around a heart.
Mr. Right works largely thanks to Kendrick’s pitch perfect pluckiness as Martha. Awkward, funny, and just a bit out of joint, Martha’s innocence and naïveté sells the convoluted premise that a single thirtysomething cat lady might blush at the idea of dating a contract killer. Mr. Right adds to Kendrick's claim to be the most likable actress working today since Julia Roberts. Rockwell’s a lot of fun too in his ruffled performance as Mr. Right. Francis, a sly operator type, couldn’t be more different from Martha, but it’s case of opposites becoming attracted to one another as the fire and water of Kendrick and Rockwell’s enjoyable screen team often hits the money by playing off one another with slapstick skill. Throw in her kitty hears and his clown nose and Mr. Right gives birth to some carnivalesque baby that one just can’t help but love.
Mr. Right opens in Toronto at the Carlton, in Montreal at Dollar Cinema, in Medicine Hat at The Monarch, and on VOD on May 27 from VVS Films.