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THE CHUG CHUG THUG

His name is Frank and he’s an alcoholic. But he’s not just any anonymous drunkard; Frank is also a hit man. The grim, facial-haired baldie hails from the cold frontier of Buffalo, New York. He works for Roman (Philip Baker Hall), the crusty boss of the city’s Polish mobsters. On a recent job, Frank is assigned to off a grey-mustached bully named O’Leary (Dennis Farina). Frank passes out during the stakeout and misses his mark. His incompetence keeps O’Leary alive and heaps Roman with troubles. As a result, the furious Roman orders the hit man to temporarily leave Buffalo. Frank must get sober or it’s over.

Sir Alcohol-Breath takes a breather in San Francisco. That’s right – where else can a man level his tipsy lifestyle, but in the city of slanted streets? On the road to Soberville, Frank meets three people: the Roman-appointed guardian (Bill Pullman); the somber AA sponsor Tom (Luke Wilson); and the almost improbable love interest Laurel (Téa Leoni).

There’s no doubt that the star here is Ben Kingsley. He plays Frank with subtle and inner moods. The tough guy is never emotive and yet Kingsley makes him easy to read. Frank is actually a shy, soft-spoken guy, but he covers it up as a gruff apathy. For a hit man, it’s important to keep hard-edged look and Kingsley is easily intimidating on demeanor alone. And for those of us who has witnessed and stepped back from his mad-dog role in “Sexy Beast,” we know Kingsley can be scary-dangerous.

My problem with the picture is the action was measly, compared to a whole lot of talking. The hook for me wasn’t Frank the alcoholic. It was the fact that he is an alcoholic AND a hit man. But, in order for us to see Frank’s skills, he must conquer his alcoholism first. Therefore, the movie ends up more about battling the bottle, rather than bad guys. In retrospect, this plot direction isn’t so troublesome. Maybe I found the execution just a bit misleading, especially with its whimsical ethnic score. I was expecting to have fun, but I was only amused at best. It felt a little letdown. Also, it kills me that “You Kill Me” has so much potential in its cast (Kingsley and Leoni strike a peculiar pairing) and yet, its story is merely passable. I say these things because I care. And because my name is Darwin and I’m a movie-holic.

Grade: B-

CAST
Ben Kingsley, Téa Leoni, Luke Wilson, Philip Baker Hall, Dennis Farina, and Bill Pullman
Screenplay by
Christopher Markus
Stephen McFeely
Directed by
John Dahl
Rated R for language and some violence
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