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‘The Kill Room’ (review)

The Kill Room has a clever and largely original plot. If only they had made a better movie out of it.

My problem with The Kill Room seems to be confined to the writing and directing, although the editing isn’t exactly award-worthy, either. The picture is oddly paced, and at times confusing.

Potentially interesting characters are never really explored in as much depth as they could be, even the main ones. It’s a good-looking movie, though, with nice cinematography, a well-chosen musical score, and quite good performances from most of the actors.

Uma Thurman stars and produced as well. She has always been underrated as an actress and manages to at least attempt to bring depth to her character here in spite of the script seeming to work against her. Press made a big deal about how her daughter, Maya Hawke (Stranger Things) co-stars with her in The Kill Room but in actuality, the two have just a couple brief scenes together, both times arguing.

The always nice to see Debi Mazar plays a typical art critic known as The Kimono. A new to me actress named Amy Keum, playing Uma’s gallery intern/assistant, steals every scene she’s in. She’s just marvelous fun and I hope to catch her again in something soon.

The male lead is Joe Manganiello, an actor I hadn’t seen since HBO’s True Blood. He’s at his brooding hunky best here, creating his character more from what he doesn’t say than what he does.

I couldn’t really tell if the two had any kind of romantic relationship going or just a business arrangement. Sometimes it seemed one way, then the other.

What business arrangement? Ah, that’s where The Kill Room is at its clever best. The overarching plot is sort of a variation on TV’s Barry. That series is about a hit man who accidentally falls into acting and becomes successful at it. This movie is about a hit man who accidentally falls into the world of art and becomes successful in it!

It’s all part of a scheme to launder mob money. When someone wants someone dead, they buy a painting from a particular gallery for a particularly high price. They pay by check, all open and above board. The gallery takes a cut, the rest is given to the mob guys. Best line in the movie is when Uma asks Samuel L. Jackson, “Are you mansplaining money laundering to me?”

Jackson’s character, known as The Black Dreidel, is fun and intriguing. He’s a mobbed-up loudmouth, faux-Jewish baker who works directly with the hit man (as well as acting as a bookie on the side). I would have liked to have seen much more of him than there is in the picture. It’s his idea to launder the money through an art gallery. He’s told there has to be actual paintings, though, for it to stay unnoticed. So he has his cohort, Manganiello, just throw something together in his downtime.

If you know anything at all about the art world, you know that it doesn’t make a lot of sense. Someone paints a yellow dot on a blue canvas and it sells for six million bucks. Or someone silk screens a pre-existing photo and it sells for gazillions. Or someone takes a meticulously crafted comic book panel and blows it up really big and is called a genius.

Our hit man, here, becomes celebrated as a unique new talent in the field. His mixed media art makes the gallery hot again, and he starts getting profiled in the papers. He likes the idea and becomes more serious about his art. But the mob boss isn’t happy. Nobody leaves the mob behind. Well, not until Uma comes up with a once in a lifetime bit of performance art that solves everybody’s problems!

Somehow, apparently. None of that is really all that clear. Would she really go from a nervous, drug-addled gallery owner to a super-confident woman able to stand up to murderous gangsters? And stoop to felonies, herself? An attempt to have her explain the insane ending to Jackson’s character just seems to complicate it more.

The Kill Room is a blackly comic parody of both the Underworld and the Art World. The winning performances, score, and visual look of the film keep it watchable. I just wish a little more thought had gone into making it more understandable, too.

*  *  *  *  *
Produced by Jordan Yale Levine,Jordan Beckerman, Anne Clements, William Rosenfeld,
Bill Kenwright, Nicol Paone, Dannielle Thomas, Jason Weinberg, Uma Thurman

Written by Jonathan Jacobson
Directed by Nicol Paone
Starring Uma Thurman, Joe Manganiello, Samuel L. Jackson,
Debi Mazar, Maya Hawke, Dree Hemingway, Amy Keum, Candy Buckley,
Larry Pine, Jennifer Kim, Matthew Maher, Tom Pecinka, Alexander Sokovikov

The Kill Room is available on Demand and Digital HD


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