Tuesday, September 26, 2023

The Kill Room

Tom Wolfe's The Painted Word outraged the art world, because it exposed its increasingly postmodern ideas to the general population. Since then, the gallery world has become even more prone to trendy theories and irrational exuberance. Arguably, the hardest thing to believe in this satire is its success recruiting Pulp Fiction co-stars Uma Thurman and Samuel L. Jackson to star in Nicol Paone’s The Kill Room, which opens this Friday in theaters.

Patrice Capullo’s gallery was on its last legs, largely thanks to her self-destructive behavior. However, thanks to a referral from her Adderall dealer, gangster and self-proclaimed Yiddish bialy-baker Gordon Davis offers he a money laundering deal she cannot refuse. Capullo will record sales of junky paintings they supply, funneling the “clean” money back to the gang’s account, minus her cut, without arising the IRS’s suspicions, because contemporary art prices defy all conventional logic. They just need physical paintings to keep things “legal.”

That job will fall to Reggie Pitt, the gang’s reluctant hitman, who decides to paint under his unofficial nickname, “The Bag Man,” a reference to his preferred technique, asphyxiation by plastic bag. At first, Pitt considers it a chore. However, when Capullo’s intern releases news of his first big “sale” to the gallery trades, suddenly every collector wants a Bag Man original.

The premise of
Kill Room is sort of like the art world variation of “Springtime for Hitler” in The Producers, except it could potentially take Capullo’s gallery to the lofty heights she always dreamed of. The problem is Davis’s “business associates” do not appreciate the sudden media attention. In fact, they hate it and fear it.

Jonathan Jacobson’s screenplay is cleverer than you would expect. The film also has the guts to make one of the villains a mysterious art-collecting Russian oligarch, who has a featured role to play in the climax.

Thurman is quite funny, in an
Ab-Fab kind of way, as the degenerate Capullo, who is still less snotty than her colleagues and competitors. Frankly, her snarky delivery gets more laughs than Jackson, who basically does his regular shtick playing Davis. Of course, it is fun to watch the two of them banter. Thurman also shares a nice rapport with Joe Manganiello, who is subtly engaging as he reveals Pitt’s more human side. Just about everyone else is a caricature, but many are still funny, like Jennifer Kim playing Mae, the oligarch’s buying agent.

The Kill Room
is strangely under-heralded, considering it stars Thurman and Jackson, but it is probably funnier than Velvet Buzzsaw. It still can’t beat Roger Corman’s subversive satire Bucket of Blood, but that was a true classic. Recommended for viewers who enjoy seeing hipsters taken down a peg or two, The Kill Room opens this Friday (9/29) in New York, at the AMC Empire.