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D: Dan Gregor / 99m

Cast: Adam Pally, Rachel Bloom, Vincent Kartheiser, Doug Mand, John Reynolds, Didi Conn, Ethan Phillips, Julia Goldani Telles, Rebecca Naomi Jones, Bonnie Rose

Billy (Pally), the one-time king of his local high school, is now, ten years later, working at a dead-end job in a Las Vegas hotel. Deciding it’s time for a holiday, he returns home to his parents (Conn, Phillips), but makes out he’s successful and on the verge of completing a major deal. Billy reconnects with his old friend, Duane (Mand), but finds that most everyone else in town isn’t as pleased to see him back, including old flame, Kara (Bloom). Billy left her behind to go to Las Vegas; now she’s dating Billy’s neighbour and town pharmacist, Lowell (Kartheiser). When Lowell’s mother dies suddenly, Billy becomes suspicious when he realises that Lowell has lied to the police. Convinced that Lowell is a killer, Billy sets about gathering evidence, and even voices his suspicions to Lieutenant Perkins (Reynolds). But with everyone believing Lowell to be a pillar of the community, and unable to produce clear evidence that Lowell has killed his mother, Billy decides to return to Las Vegas. Until Kara notices something strange about the pharmacy inventory…

A valiant attempt to combine comedy with a murder mystery, Most Likely to Murder is the kind of eccentric mash-up that needs to be on its toes with both aspects of its construction. It’s moderately successful on both counts, but makes mistakes along the way that could have been easily avoided. First is Billy himself, a self-aggrandising, arrogant, insensitive jerk whose character arc is non-existent until the very end when the script – previously uninterested in giving him any redeeming features – gets him to do an abrupt volte face and reveal a previously well hidden (if not absent) conscience. The second is the mystery itself, which, though the movie has a great deal of fun with the whole did-he-didn’t-he? angle, is too laboured and predictable to work as effectively as needed, and keen-eyed fans of murder mysteries will correctly guess the outcome well in advance of the movie revealing it. So, as a result, the movie has a lead character who’s immediately unlikeable and behaves inappropriately because it drives most of the comedy, and a murder mystery that is dependent on making the main suspect as guilty looking as possible but only because, in Billy’s eyes, he’s a “bit weird”.

There are moments when the script – by co-star Mand and director Gregor – contorts itself in its efforts to keep things moving, and the movie’s pace dips when it has to choose between being funny or serious. This leads to odd moments such as Billy’s brief “interaction” with Duane’s mother (Rose), a bathroom “reveal” that defies the belief that “Lowell has no pole”, and a running joke involving a VHS tape of Billy and Lt. Perkins’ wife (Jones) from high school that everyone wants to see. Against the odds, the performances make things far more enjoyable than the script allows for, with Pally embracing Billy’s faults in a way that, while not making him sympathetic, does at least allow the viewer to understand him. There’s good support from Bloom and Mand, and Reynolds finds different ways to play henpecked and exasperated without it feeling forced, but if anyone has a hard time, it’s Kartheiser, who has to deal with the script’s determination to make Lowell as weird as possible to fit Billy’s suspicions. He does what he can but there are clear moments when the actor is struggling to keep his performance on track. By the end, you’ll know if he’s succeeded, but before then, this is a movie that doesn’t make it easy for the viewer to remain entirely interested in Billy’s search for the truth.

Rating: 5/10 – moderately funny with a moderately interesting murder mystery, Most Likely to Murder will exasperate some viewers while proving moderately entertaining to others; the kind of movie that comes and goes with little fanfare, it’s worth checking out if you’re in an undemanding mood, but anyone looking for something with a bit more substance would be wise to look elsewhere.

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