(director: John Dahl; screenwriters: Christopher Markus/Stephen McFeely; cinematographer: Jeffrey Jur; editor: Scott Chestnut; music: Marcelo Zarvos; cast: Ben Kingsley (Frank Falenczyk), Téa Leoni (Laurel Pearson), Luke Wilson (Tom), Dennis Farina (Edward O’Leary), Philip Baker Hall (Roman Krzeminski), Bill Pullman (Dave), Marcus Thomas (Stef), Alison Sealy-Smith (Doris); Runtime: 92; MPAA Rating: R; producer: Carol Baum/Mike Marcus/Zvi Howard Rosenman/Al Corley/Bart Rosenblatt/Eugene Musso; IFC Films; 2007-Canada)

“Slays me over its colorful amusing characters even if its story underwhelms me.”

Reviewed by ennis Schwartz

The wry black comedy directed by John Dahl (“Red Rock West”/“The Last Seduction”/“Kill Me Again”) and delightfully written by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely works as a minor film that’s made to order for late-night TV cable fare. It slays me over its colorful amusing characters even if its story underwhelms me. Reasonably absurd and funny throughout, it excels when firing away with its droll dialogue but gets taken down a few pegs in its execution of its neo-noir story involving a predictable gang war over Buffalo turf (filmed in Winnipeg, Canada).

Frank Falenczyk (Ben Kingsley) is the hit man for a faltering Polish crime family in Buffalo. Because he indulges in too much vodka and sleeps through a big contract job — he flubs rubbing out threatening rival Irish gang leader Edward O’Leary (Dennis Farina) before he embarks to NYC’s Chinatown to meet with investors. His disappointed boss Roman Krzeminski (Philip Baker Hall) says this missed opportunity signals the end of his Polish gang’s control in Buffalo, and orders his relative to San Francisco to enter Alcoholics Anonymous to get straightened out. In San Francisco Frank reluctantly starts the AA 12-step program with the help of his tolerant easygoing gay toll collector sponsor Tom (Luke Wilson). Opportunistic sleazy real estate broker Dave (Bill Pullman), on Roman’s orders, gets Frank a nice apartment and a job at the local funeral parlor dressing the dead bodies. There Frank meets the attractive lonely-heart Laurel (Téa Leoni) when she appears to give her not-so-loved step-father shoes to be buried in. She’s a successful local TV sales rep, who is unlucky in love and only hopes to meet an older man who is not gay. The two acerbic lost souls hit it off, in a quirky and awkward relationship that has Frank truthful to a fault–spilling the beans about what he really does for a living to a surprised but forgiving Laurel, Tom and AA meeting group. He expresses regret only that he let his crime family down and wishes to get off the booze so he can go back to killing people–something he’s good at and likes doing even more than drinking. With the help of the program Frank begins to clean up his act, until he learns things aren’t going too well in Buffalo after receiving a call for Roman’s son Stef (Marcus Thomas) and returns to a snowy Buffalo to confront his Irish rivals.