I generally enjoy a good crime caper, and I’m a fan of both Sam Rockwell and Anna Kendrick; so it’s a little disconcerting that I’m so conflicted about Mr Right. On the surface, this darkly comedic romp through New Orleans should be a crowd pleaser – after all, it’s a kind of Mr & Mrs Smith in reverse – but I found myself having deep reservations about this film.
So to step back for a moment, the plot concerns Martha McKay (Kendrick), whose lack of luck in love is laid bare in the first scene, when she discovers her boyfriend’s cheating in the most blatant way. Distraught, the already listless Martha hangs out with her best friend Sophie (Katie Nehra) – mostly drinking and getting into misadventures involving cats. That is, until a chance encounter with Francis (Rockwell) changes everything. Martha feels an instant connection with Francis (even though he’s reluctant to tell her his name), fuelled by his quirky outlook on life. Thing is though, Francis is a former special forces operative and now kind-of-former hitman whose has taken to a bizarre new twist. It seems Francis has become a kind of angel of vengeance, turning the tables on those who hire him as a hitman – by killing them – because “murder is wrong” (just think about that for a moment). Anyhow, Francis faces threats on two fronts – he has ticked off a powerful Mob family led by the ruthless Richard Cartigan (Anson Mount); plus he’s being tracked by shadowy (possibly government; but possibly not) operative Hopper (Tim Roth). Naturally, these twin threats put Martha squarely in the firing line.
Structurally there are two main problems with this film – as a central character, Francis just isn’t very likeable; and the script from Max Landis (who also penned the superficially similar American Ultra) spends too little time and effort setting up the central dynamic between Martha and Francis. While the whole love-at-first-sight thing is a standard movie trope, I never felt any real connection between the characters. This hampers the second half of the film where Francis is set up to rescue damsel-in-distress Martha (although that particular trope gets turned on its head somewhat). I never got the sense that Francis cared enough about Martha – or vice versa for that matter – to do what the characters do in the second and third acts. Landis doesn’t help things by making the bad guys essentially one-dimensional buffoons.
More fundamentally however, I had strong reservations about the script’s (and thus the film’s) moral compass. As mentioned, the central premise of Francis’s character is pretty messed up, and that really doesn’t change as the film goes on. Perhaps it’s a case of bad timing (the film being released in the same week as the horrific Orlando shootings), but the way the film revels in gun culture and bloody violence is distasteful at the least. Just to cap it all off, there’s some quite confronting violence against women (well, a woman) that also makes for uncomfortable viewing.
Director Paco Cabezas presents the material in a rather conventional style, without a lot of flourishes – which befits the straight-ahead and frankly quite shallow plot. That said, his staging of the final climactic fight scene is well done; and he doesn’t allow the film to overstay its economic 90 minutes running time.
The thing that keeps Mr Right from sinking completely is the central performance of Anna Kendrick (Pitch Perfect 2) as Martha. Her bubbly presence and perfect timing is captivating. Sam Rockwell (Seven Psychopaths) performs admirably as Francis, but is hampered somewhat by his unsympathetic character and some plot detours that make little sense. Tim Roth (The Hateful Eight) is wonderful as the determined Hopper; while Katie Nehra and rapper RZA add colour to their minor characters.
While there are definitely things to like about Mr Right, the film’s more problematic elements overwhelmed them for me. If you’re not bothered by the film’s rather graphic violence and its moral ambiguity, then this is certainly a diverting enough action comedy with a dash of romance thrown in. However, the film really requires you to disengage your brain in order for it to work. If you so much as casually question what’s going on, it starts to fall apart.
Director: Paco Cabezas
Cast: Anna Kendrick, Sam Rockwell, Tim Roth, Katie Nehra, RZA
Release Date: 16 June 2016
Rating: MA15+ – Strong violence and coarse language
David Edwards is the editor of The Blurb and a contributor on film and television