D: Paco Cabezas / 95m
Cast: Sam Rockwell, Anna Kendrick, Tim Roth, James Ransone, Anson Mount, Dennis Eklund, RZA, Katie Nehra
There were two movies released in 2015 with the title Mr. Right… and this isn’t the other one (which, to clarify, stars Columbus Short and Erica Tazel, and doesn’t have a screenplay by Max Landis). This one is definitely the wackier of the two, a broad mix of comedy, action and romance that exists in the same universe as American Ultra (2015), and which allows Sam Rockwell to do what he does best and ooze more charm than any leading man has a right to.
The set up is a simple one. Martha (Kendrick) dumps her boyfriend when she finds out he’s seeing someone else. Depressed and turning to alcohol for comfort she lacks the confidence to believe that she’ll ever find that elusive Mr. Right. But a chance encounter in a convenience store leads to her going on an impulsive date with a guy (Rockwell) whose name she doesn’t even find out (and not until much later). Their relationship soon blossoms into a romance that is surprising to both of them, even when the guy makes apparently flippant remarks about killing people. It’s only when Martha actually sees him kill someone that she returns to believing there isn’t one man on the planet who’s right for her.
Now the guy is a hitman (as you may have suspected). But he’s kind of reformed. He still kills people, but in a neat moral turnaround, he kills the ones who hire him (and tells them that murder is wrong before he does). Martha’s guy is also being tracked by his former mentor, Hopper (Roth), who is pretending to be an FBI agent. Hopper’s bosses want Martha’s guy dead, but they may have to wait in line, as the man Martha sees him kill is connected to a Mafia family, and they now want him dead as well. With her new beau being shot at and attacked by what appears to be all-comers, Martha has a decision to make: does she walk away and settle for someone half as interesting and special, or does she take a chance on love?
(Well, we all know the answer to that one, don’t we?)
There are two reasons to watch Mr. Right, and they’re the script by Max Landis, and the performance by Sam Rockwell. Landis is making quite the reputation for himself, and with scripts for this, American Ultra, Chronicle (2012) and errr… Victor Frankenstein (2015) under his belt, he’s certainly a writer to watch, and while the basic conceit of a hitman who kills the people who hire him is a novel one, where Landis scores highly is with the romantic portions of the movie. As Rockwell’s off-centre hitman and Kendrick’s semi-doofus pet store worker get to know each other and fall hopelessly in love, Landis provides both actors with the kind of snappy, winning dialogue that makes each scene they share a pleasure to watch. Where else are you going to find lines such as, “That’s a lot of condoms. You’ve got enough to choke a goat”, or “And Martha Agatha, it’s just a double menopause punch in the… it’s brutal”?
With Landis making the most of the romantic aspect of the movie, and creating such a winning relationship, it’s almost a shame that the murderous actions of Roth’s determined ex-colleague and Ransone’s duplicitous Mafia scion, Von, have to take over for the obligatory action-packed second half. It’s a stroke of genius then that Landis introduces the character of Steve (RZA), ostensibly a disposable gun for hire who proves to be a match for Mr. Right and earns his respect. It’s a funny, unexpected role, and RZA plays it perfectly. But this is Rockwell’s movie, and as the titular anti-hero he brings his A game, infusing his character with a joie de vivre that is both infectious and charming in equal measure. He brings so much to the role of Mr. Right that it’s almost impossible to keep up with everything he’s doing in any given scene. It’s the kind of portrayal that won’t win any awards but is breathtaking in its effortless simplicity – and completely makes up for his sleepwalking turn in Poltergeist (2015).
With Rockwell firing on all cylinders and fully engaged with the material, it’s good to see Kendrick having fun as well as Martha. It’s not a role that’s any kind of a stretch for her, but she’s funny and adorable, and a great foil for Rockwell (and despite the obvious difference in their ages). Roth shows off his comic chops as well, imbuing Hopper with a studied insouciance that pays dividends throughout (look out for an early scene as he accurately predicts the fates of a group of guns for hire as they try to take down Mr. Right in a hotel). Less satisfactory however are the performances of Ransone and Eklund as the Mafia heavyweights who pick the wrong assassin to off their in-charge brother (Mount). Whenever they’re on screen, caricature and enforced stupidity aren’t far away, and their characters are almost cartoon-like. It’s hard to tell if the root cause is Landis’s screenplay, Cabezas’ direction, or the actors’ performances. Maybe it’s a combination of all three, but whatever the reason, they’re the movie’s only real disappointment.
In the end, Mr. Right is lightweight, enjoyable stuff that doesn’t require too much thought but still manages to entertain consistently and with a fair degree of brio. Cabezas’ last outing was the less than stellar Rage (2014) with Nicolas Cage, and like Rockwell with Poltergeist, he’s on better form here, showing a confidence in his handling of what is effectively a genre mash-up that yields sterling results, and stops the movie from straying in any one direction at the expense of the others. He’s ably supported by DoP Daniel Aranyó, who finds some unusual angles to make the action sequences more invigorating, and an exuberant score by Aaron Zigman.
Rating: 8/10 – there’s so much to enjoy in Mr. Right that it’s tempting to watch it again straight after seeing it for the first time; with an on-form turn from Rockwell and a great script by Landis, the movie is a minor outing that rewards above its weight and will keep you smiling throughout, even when it’s being patently absurd.