Clowning, bullet-riddled rom-com Mr. Right is awfully charming in the best and worse senses of the phrase. It’s often kind of awful but also weirdly effervescent, a movie that salves, with its stars’ radiance and charisma, even as it grates. What hurts: lots of vaguely comic hitman drama, with New Orleans crime-mooks interminably plotting against each other and attempting to co-opt and/or kill a dashing rogue assassin played by Sam Rockwell. What soothes, even thrills: that rogue assassin’s budding romance with a motormouthed local train wreck, a role that Anna Kendrick kills with such flamboyant style it makes all the movie’s shootings look even more rote. There are only so many ways to off a meathead, and you’ve seen all of Mr. Right‘s before. But there are apparently limitless ways to spin clever-dumb falling-in-love talk, and Kendrick has mastered them, finding fresh, hilarious variations in scene after scene.
She starts the movie as a bored, self-involved dumpee, drunk and depressed and horrible to her friends, and even she can’t find a laugh in dialogue like “Do I just suck? Am I, like, Suckball McGee over here?” But her sneering turns to hesitant smiling after Rockwell’s too-old, too-creepy, too-Hawaiian-shirted killer asks her out in a bodega — and her lines get better, too. At first she declares him a creep, dubbing him “fancy homeless,” but her eyes light up at his gently pushy come-ons and her lips pull up into doofy, helpless grinning every time he cracks a joke. “That’s so stupid,” she beams, capturing that crushed-out disbelief of someone finally connecting to a soul like hers.
Rockwell, meanwhile, soft-shoes winningly through a too-familiar role: the fresh romantic partner with a big secret and the professional murderer with a strict moral code. One of the script’s wittiest moves is to have the killer never once pretend he’s anything but what he is — “Sorry, I had to kill a guy in the parking lot,” he announces, and she just rolls with it, another flirty non sequitur between people too charged with each other’s promise to pay attention to the details.
Viewers will likely be charged, too. Kendrick and Rockwell score every hit they can with screenwriter Max Landis’s hit-or-miss chatter. Kendrick has always been funny, but has she ever been let loose like this? Here, her walking disaster is something like the blithely callow young woman she embodied with naturalistic power in Happy Christmas, just all sparkled up and fluttering through reams of dialogue. She’s especially surprising when her character, Martha, crashes into the assassin’s world of mayhem. That’s the script’s other wittiest move: You know that moment just before the third act of any romantic comedy, when one of the lovers discovers the other’s secret and the couple breaks up? With Kendrick’s crackpot laughter and blood-slicked jollity, Mr. Right puts a welcome bullet in the head of that terrible cliché.
By the end, all of the plot-fueling, genre-specific bad decisions that Martha has made somehow cohere into a compelling portrait of a troubled, terrifying monster. The character’s conception and performance suggest a serious critical argument: At some level, aren’t the couples in romantic comedies always psychopaths? Too bad the film doesn’t bring such incisiveness to its other formulaic elements, like its dreary crime lords, its retired-killer pathos, its bullet-time slo-mo, and its insistence on life-taking as punchline.
Of the co-stars, the RZA fares best as a killer named Steve who always looks like he’d rather be someplace else. It’s also worth noting that, for all his Twitter complaints that Daisy Ridley’s Star Wars character was an impossibly capable “Mary Sue,” screenwriter Landis endows Kendrick’s Martha with Force-like knife-fighting powers, making her something like a Jedi after just one scene of practice.
Directed by Paco Cabezas
Opens April 8, AMC Empire 25