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'You Kill Me': On-Target Comedy, With a Twist

Frank is a hit-man with a problem. A drinking problem.

When You Kill Me opens, his mobster uncle has sent him to San Francisco to dry out — even gotten him a job in what you might call a related field. Frank, who has made a lot of corpses, now makes corpses look lifelike — working at a funeral home.

Which is what he's doing when he meets Laurel, a pretty media exec who is there for a relative's funeral, but who seems as unfazed by death as Frank is: "Mom's still pretty frisky, and I'm perfectly healthy," she cracks, when he suggests that maybe they'll see each other soon.

She's funny, he's deadpan, and that kind of works. But his 12-step program stresses honesty, so Frank takes Laurel to his A.A. meeting and comes clean about why his uncle sent him there. Alcohol, he confesses, was interfering with the job he'd always loved.

"How do you kill them?" Laurel asks in the aftermath of that revelation, and after a bit of metaphysical confusion about how he rationalizes his work, he gives her the answer she was actually looking for: "Guns, mostly."

Her comeback: "I need a drink."

Tone is what makes all of this work. Ben Kingsley's Frank is flat of voice and of manner, but never soulless. He's even principled, in his way. What draws you to him is what draws Tea Leoni's Laurel: He shoots straight, as it were. He's got no guile, no hidden agendas, when he says he wants to get better, for her and for his job, he means it.

So of course she roots for him. And the A.A. group's policy of not judging people means they support him, too, with a bit of blinking over that hit-man job he loves so much.

And of such moral gray areas, director John Dahl makes much laughter. You Kill Me is a decidedly peculiar picture — part hit-man thriller, part romance, part 12-step melodrama, part black comedy. And it's deliciously dry, as its hero is drying out.

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Bob Mondello, who jokes that he was a jinx at the beginning of his critical career — hired to write for every small paper that ever folded in Washington, just as it was about to collapse — saw that jinx broken in 1984 when he came to NPR.