Meetings between battle-weary hitmen and everyday schmoes have made for a surefire fish-out-of-water premise in recent years, from a long-in-the-tooth Pierce Brosnan befriending anxious everyman Greg Kinnear in The Matador to John Cusack coming home for his high-school reunion in Grosse Point Blank. Even Fargo gets some comic mileage out of the way its hitmen—the "big fella" and the "funny-looking guy"—look out of place in small-town Minnesota. So the bar is set awfully high for You Kill Me, John Dahl's off-kilter take on an alcoholic Polish gangster from Buffalo sent to dry out in San Francisco. Best known for sly neo-noirs like The Last Seduction and Red Rock West, Dahl chooses to dial down the tone until it's dry enough to kindle a brushfire, but the film is one of those rare occasions where going too low-key means missing many comic possibilities.
After playing a steamed-up mobster to unforgettable effect in Sexy Beast, Kingsley decompresses substantially as a lowlife with similar credentials. With an influx of Italian gangsters, led by Dennis Farina, honing in on Polish territory, Kingsley gets assigned to bump Farina off, but another day of hard drinking leads him to botch the job. Kingsley's boss (Philip Baker Hall) gives him another chance to clean up by shipping him off to San Francisco, where he attends AA meetings and works prepping bodies at a funeral parlor. Once there, he makes a couple of new friends: a gay AA sponsor (Luke Wilson) who collects tolls on the Golden Gate Bridge, and a high-powered corporate saleswoman (Téa Leoni) who becomes his unlikely love interest.
Relocating a stone-faced killer from snowy Buffalo to the lush, touch-feely environs of San Francisco opens the door for many funny incongruities, from Kingsley's vague horror during soul-baring AA confessionals to his bizarre relationship with a businesswoman whose world couldn't be further removed from his own. But You Kill Me doesn't overexert itself playing this situation for laughs; its brand of muted wackiness gives it a certain amount of integrity, but also makes too many scenes fall flat. The main pleasure lies in watching a cast filled with fine character actors like Kingsley, Farina, Hall, and Bill Pullman work their way around the salty, noir-inflected dialogue. It's just unfortunate that those lines add up to such piffle.