Sunday, March 2, 2014

U Want Me 2 Kill Him?

U Want Me 2 Kill Him?  begins like an old fashioned noir film, with a gullible young male falling under the spell of a woman in peril. In this case, it's  Mark (Jamie Blackley) a  British 16-year-old who is popular with the females at school, enjoys cyber sex, and imagines himself a bit of a martial arts buff. He practices with his father's antique samurai sword, gets into the occasional schoolyard brawl, and fantasizes about one day living "a mad life," where people would look at him and say, "I wonder what he'll do next?" For the most part, his life is not much different than any British teenager's, made up of soccer games and quick rolls in the sack with cuties from his class, but when he meets a woman online who tells him she's in the witness protection program and her boyfriend is a gangster who beats her, he begins to think his dreams of being a man of action are about to come true.

Most males would be happy enough being Mark that there'd be no need for heroic fantasies. He has the easy sort of charisma that eludes most of us, and women are drawn to him. That he grows dangerously fascinated by some strange woman who invites him to masturbate via the internet, to the point where he's willing to kill for her, is what makes him such an intriguing and realistic character. In a lesser film he'd be a lonely soul with no social life and no future. But this film is based on a true story, and the truth is not only stranger than fiction, it's also more complicated and a lot less predictable. 

The woman asks Mark to do her a favor and keep an eye on her younger brother, an introverted boy named John (Toby Regbo). John is having a difficult time in school and needs a friend, she says. Willing to do anything for this mysterious woman, Mark befriends John, and the two become unlikely buddies. Despite Mark being the school's dashing soccer hero, and John being a lonely misfit, the boy's share a mutual interest in the morbid: John entertains Mark with stories about Russian gangsters who kill Somalian pirates for the fun of it and hang their heads on the wall like hunting trophies. He also tells a tale about being kidnapped as a child. "You lead a mad life," Mark says approvingly.  When John's sister dies in what seems a suicide, Mark suspects her gangster boyfriend murdered her and enlists John in a plan to find the gangster and kill him.  

From there, the story takes a number of twists, until Mark finds himself under the spell of another woman online, this time a woman who claims to work for the government and involves Mark in a plan to stop a possible terrorist movement. If this sounds a bit much, it actually makes for some riveting drama. The plot is expertly doled out by director Andrew Douglas, who is best known in America for a dreary and unnecessary  remake of The Amityville Horror (2005). U Want Me 2 Kill Him? is a such an engrossing, well-executed movie, from a screenplay by an even lesser known writer named Mike Walden (based on an article in Vanity Fair), that I hope we don't have another seven year gap between films from Douglas. The film, incidentally, was produced by Bryan Singer, who before he was making bloated comic book movies was making tight little suspense films like this one. 

Douglas even finds a way to make people engaging in online chats interesting. These scenes are usually dreadfully dull in movies - who wants to watch people typing? But since much of the movie takes place online, Douglas comes up with a neat way to keep it lively - he has the actors recite what they're typing, so it seems as if an actual conversation is taking place, rather than a bunch of texts. As we move into a culture that exists as much online as off, I dread a future of movies where people are constantly sending text messages. But if filmmakers follow Douglas' idea, these scenes will at least be palatable.

The performances from Blackely and Regbo are spot on.  It could be because they're British actors and haven't been brainwashed by the twitchy, self-conscious American style of the past 20 years, but they seem like real people having real conversations. Their developing friendship would've been an interesting movie in itself, even without the dark murder plot. Regbo is vulnerable and pathetic as John, but carefully reveals a mean streak just under his surface, as well as a peculiar death wish. Blackely has an equally complex role, having to appear cockily comfortable in his own skin, yet naive enough to believe there's a place for him in the world of secret agents and terrorist plots.  

Why do young men want to be heroic? Why, even when they're lives are going well, do they feel the need to gamble everything on something dramatic? In U Want Me 2 Kill Him?, it's pretty clear they do it for the approval of women. Maybe it's something in the DNA that reaches back to when we lived in caves. The problem is that someone like Mark isn't sophisticated enough to know when he's being manipulated. Some men want to be the knight in shining armor so badly that they'll seek out any distressed damsel,  even those in the darkest corners of the Internet.

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