At times, Alan Taylor's Kill The Poor seems more like a collection of gimmicks than a film. The script (by Lemony Snicket creator Daniel Handler, working from Joel Rose's novel) requires the characters to talk in choppy, overlapping, repeating David Mamet patterns; the story jigs back and forth through time, interrupting the characters in mid-sentence, so that each unfinished thought informs the following scene. Alternate-reality possibilities pepper the action, and some scenes recur at multiple points throughout the film for emphasis. It's all so choppy and artificial that it occasionally resembles a full-length narrative version of the "it looks like a huge Johnson" sequences from Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me. But in spite of its oddities, it pulls off a memorable story.
David Krumholtz (Serenity's Mr. Universe) stars as a hapless New Yorker whose life changes rapidly after an acquaintance (Clara Bellar) casually proposes to him. "This is not romance, this is politics," she tells him, though she never explains the comment, and the nature of their ensuing marriage is entirely unclear. However they feel about each other, they soon move into a Lower East Side tenement besieged by junkies who periodically kick down the building's door and steal its fixtures, and Krumholtz winds up in charge of the tenants' collective that defends and manages the building. This puts him in direct conflict with Paul Calderon, a bat-wielding neighborhood legend who lived in the building before the collective formed, and refuses to contribute "rent" like his fellow squatters, who want him and his delinquent son (Jon Budinoff) ejected. While dealing with Bellar's pregnancy and family pressure to leave the dangerous neighborhood, Krumholtz tries to mediate between the building's colorful, uncooperative residents, with mixed results.
Taylor makes the most of his tiny budget with creative editing and shooting, though his New York City is anemic, narrow, and underpopulated, and his constant repetition of the same damn 60 seconds of music becomes excruciating. At times, his staccato narrative style feels nervy and gritty, lending the story an appealing tension that surpasses its low-stakes story. But ultimately, the stylistic tricks can't cover the gaps in substance, particularly when it comes to the vast blank of Krumholtz and Bellar's relationship. Kill The Poor has its moments, particularly in its one-two punch ending, but it ultimately feels like Taylor lost a reel of crucial footage somewhere, and did what he could to distract the audience with fancy footwork.