Thursday, February 12, 2015

HRIFF ’15: Kill Me, Deadly

It debuted at the scrappy forty-three seat Theater of NOTE in Los Angeles, but you would be surprised how many high schools and colleges have subsequently mounted productions. It was exactly the sort of hardboiled film noir send-up they were looking for. It turns out Bill Robens’ stage play is so durable, it can even be adapted as an independent film. Danger is Charlie Nickel’s business in Darrett Sanders’ Kill Me, Deadly (trailer here), which screens tomorrow during the 2015 Hollywood Reel Independent Film Festival.

Nickels thought there was something funny about his new client and his judgment is sort of vindicated when Lady Clairmont is mysteriously murdered. Naturally, there are no shortage of suspects, including the servants she did wrong, Clive, the man-child son she belittled, and Veronica, the daughter who makes Carmen Sternwood in The Big Sleep look demur and responsible. Lady Clairmont’s missing cursed diamond also suggests a potential motive.

Rather belatedly, Nickels takes on the Clairmont case in earnest. Fortunately, that means his considerably more resourceful secretary Ida is also on the job. He might not like what she turns up, particularly when he gets personally involved with torch-singer Mona Livingston, a potential “witness.”

Brought to the big screen by the teams behind the original stage production and the Euro-spy spoof Scream of the Bikini, KMD has a terrifically rich film noir look and it offers plenty of hat-tips to classics of the genre. It is also something of a Criminal Minds reunion featuring series stars Kirsten Vangsness as Livingston, Joe Mantegna in a small but significant role as Bugsy Siegel (even winning him HRIFF’s pre-announced best supporting actor award), and Shemar Moore making a cameo appearance as Livingston’s piano accompanist. Plus, the previously recurring Dean Lemont returns to the role of Nickels, which he originated on stage.

Although KMD is technically a spoof film, the entire ensemble prefers to dig into the genre for all its worth, rather than mug for the camera and troll for cheap laughs. There is plenty of scenery chewing, as well there should be, but Lemont plays it scrupulously straight, in a Robert Stack kind of way. Both Vangsness and Raleigh Holmes (as Veronica Clairmont) embrace their femme fatale-ness to the hilt, but nobody can out noir-diva Lesley-Anne Down as the still seductive but not long for the world Lady Fairmont. Yet, one of the more subtly shaded turns comes from Sanders, the helmer himself (prominently featured in Bikini), who brings a nice world-weariness to in-demand freelance enforcer Louie Shorts.

It is clear everyone involved with KMD loves film noir and wanted to make one just as much as they set out to satirize them. Robens’ adaptation of his play hits all the bases. Mainly, he and the game cast score knowing chuckles from appreciative fans, but there are some big laughs down the stretch. Even though it was shot in a mere twenty-six days, spread out over five years, Sanders and cinematographer Nicholas Trikonis makes it look seamless and stylishly era-appropriate. Recommended for film noir lovers, Kill Me, Deadly screens tomorrow night (2/13) as part of this year’s Hollywood Reel Independent Film Festival.