Anna Kendrick and Sam Rockwell Should Be So Much Better Together than This
When you think of Anna Kendrick and Sam Rockwell, you undoubtedly think of one word that defines both of their on-screen presences: charm. And not just the generic, Clooney-esque stuff, but the authentic kind that hemorrhages off the screen and leaves big gooey, charm puddles beneath it. Along with memorable turns in Up in the Air and 50/50, Kendrick’s charm is largely what helped turn Pitch Perfect into a soon-to-be 3-part franchise. Rockwell also made several would’ve-been-forgotten films into damn near classics with his on-screen heart-winning roles in Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, Moon, and The Way Way Back. He even made the 2015 Poltergeist remake somewhat watchable.
So if we pair up these two in a new movie – the Max Landis-penned Mr. Right – they have to be oh-so-perfect for each other, correct? I mean, the math and chemistry of their celestial bliss as an on-screen couple would have to be flawless, don’t ya think? And the end result might ignite Scanners-style head explosions from the massive amounts of charm overload that would be too much for our meager minds to bear, right? Well…we’ll get to that.
After she catches her boyfriend cheating on her, Martha (Kendrick) tries to pick up the pieces of her broken life when she has a random meet cute with the mysterious Francis (Rockwell). They then embark on a whirlwind romance before Martha soon realizes Francis is actually a contract killer, who – spurred by an inexplicable, newfound moral compass – eliminates the people who hire him. This leads to the couple inadvertently getting mixed up in a plot between two gangster brothers locked in a power struggle for their father’s criminal empire. Francis and Martha’s courtship is even further derailed when a cunning mentor-turned-nemesis (Tim Roth) closes in on Francis’ trail and amps up the body count around them.
When Mr. Right is working at its best, there are some VERY fleeting flashes (think a flashlight with a mostly burned out bulb and nearly dead battery) of True Romance. In NO way am I putting this movie on equal footing with Tony Scott’s vastly superior film, but there are some light thematic callbacks to it. Clarence and Alabama wanted nothing more than a new life together, but extenuating circumstances (some of their own creation, others inadvertent) hung over their heads to impede their happy ending; the same is true of Francis and Martha. Martha’s scene with chatty enforcer Johnny Moon (Michael Eklund) is also reminiscent of the classic encounter between Alabama and James Gandolfini’s stone cold Virgil. But, in addition to a Quentin Tarantino script with beats that hit with tribal drum precision, True Romance was buoyed by overwhelming, searing chemistry between Patricia Arquette and Christian Slater.
The lack of chemistry between the leads absolutely torpedoes Mr. Right. Wait…am I saying that two of the all time on-screen charmers of our modern era don’t jell in this?! How is this even possible? Is anything we have ever known true? Is this even real life?!
Let me start by saying that Kendrick and Rockwell are both very good in Mr. Right. Their performances elevate otherwise extremely lackluster material. They’re good enough to allow us to be minimally entertained, keep most of us from peeking at our watches and not take any of the impractical components too seriously (nor should we). But this movie feels like it thinks it’s much funnier than what it is. Most of the humor plays like walking into mid-conversation of someone else’s inside joke. An early scene that’s supposed to provide an innuendo for sensuality and intimacy between Francis and Martha involving a knife feels as painful to watch as Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner’s ludicrous playground fight in Daredevil (the abysmal 2003 film). But this scene WOULD possibly work if the pair had red-hot, off-the-charts chemistry. Ryan Gosling and Carey Mulligan in Drive could make it work. Maika Monroe and Dan Stevens in The Guest could easily have made it work.
So what gives with Kendrick and Rockwell’s inability to mesh? Well, first off, Sam looks great for his age…but the guy is and (more importantly) LOOKS nearly all seventeen years older than Kendrick that he is. Anna’s love interests in most of her films at least look much closer to if not actually around her age. It just gives a kind of “creepy uncle” vibe to Francis. They also don’t seem to be enjoying themselves much. Their on-screen flirtation doesn’t radiate off the cloth, rather they seem to be forcefully going through the motions of people enjoying themselves in service of a script telling them that’s what they should be doing. And when we, the audience, do see their respective, masterful charms…it’s in scenes when they’re apart. It’s kind of like Charlize Theron and Will Smith’s characters in Hancock…Kendrick and Rockwell’s powers disappear when they share the same frames. Oh, sorry – spoiler alert for an eight-year old movie you were clearly eager to see.
The action rom-com is an unusual genre hybrid, but it’s occasionally produced some great, mostly solid flicks over the last twenty years (Grosse Pointe Blank, Mr. & Mrs. Smith and Knight and Day) as well as some truly horrible offerings (any of the Katherine Heigl ones). The ones that worked either had clever, amusing scripts working in their favor to provide laughs or excellent action sequences (and both in the cases of the ones that fired on all cylinders). Mr. Right’s comedy struggles, but even more unfortunately, director Paco Cabezas fails to counterbalance it with any fun or memorable action scenes. That would have gone a long way toward improving the movie overall; the fight choreography is embarrassingly bad. Furthermore, Cabeza’s direction, as a whole, never steadily guides the movie with any sense of precision or finesse. Max Landis’ middling screenplay is more of a reminder to his fans just how long ago Chronicle was.
While certainly not a complete waste of time, Mr. Right is just as elusive on the big screen as his proverbial namesake is in real life and on Tinder. Despite a pairing that – on paper – seems like it works naturally, the astonishing lack of chemistry between all-star charmers Anna Kendrick and Sam Rockwell makes seeing them together in this a highly disappointing experience. And forces us to question absolutely everything we know to be real…