Chief Film Critic, Entertainment Editor TMRZoo.com
If you feel like sitting through a Christmas murder mystery during the wondrous regeneration of Springtime then you are part of the microscopic audience that should find sick delight in Michael Keaton’s stiff directorial debut featuring one of his worst acting performances ever.
The title is a take-off, no doubt, on the song “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” and is the story of a contract killer deciding, as Hannibal Lecter did, not to kill off the Jodi Foster figure in the movie. Though where Foster was a sterling caterpillar metamorphosizing into first-rate detective before our very eyes (in much the same way that Keanu Reeves awkwardly transformed from a nerd into a very hip dude in The Matrix trilogy – as an actor and as a main character) promising actress Kelly Macdonald as Kate Frazier doesn’t get the opportunity to display her obvious talents, the watered-down attempts at true Hitchcock drama and satire replaced with “Blair Witch Project” style dabbling and suspense that evaporates because Director Keaton left it suspended in the air too long.
Look, there are tons of aspiring young filmmakers across America who could have taken this idea and given it a bit of a Roman Polanski spin, but where Timothy Burton stretched landscape to fit his personal wants (and coddling Keaton sometimes in the process), just as the character of Kate Frazier is seeking direction so too is the person who is supposed to be steering this ship when he goes into his persona as a somewhat cold-blooded murderer-for-hire. Michael Keaton appears to be as conflicted in making the movie as his character he is trying to play is in this motion picture. Is serial killer for hire Frank Logan a taylor? a lover? or a failed suicide? The same thing could be asked of the actor playing Logan.
There’s chemistry between Kelly Macdonald and Bobby Cannavale who plays the estranged and abusive husband/police officer Michael Frazier, and had Keaton just stayed behind the camera and let Cannavale take the lead things could have taken a turn for the better. In fact, Keaton as the abusive husband would’ve been a better cameo role as Cannavale would’ve been a better foil for detective Dave Murcheson played well by Tom Bastounes,
As it turns out, Keaton is an actor in desperate need of a director who is directing actors who could have performed well on auto pilot. The story is somewhat compelling and the problem here is exactly the same problem The Dark Knight would have faced if Tim Burton forced Keaton on the public instead of the more in-tune Christian Bale exuding his percolating personality for all to enjoy. I have a problem with actors who let their self-importance ruin what could, otherwise, be a good movie. Heck, maybe Keaton should take a cue from Bale and scream and yell on the set to allow true brilliance to shine? Alas, that edge that is so necessary to push a movie over the top is missing here. Hitchcock could’ve made this a classic, but without the hand of the master it is a film that goes sideways without delivering much of anything.
The only thing merry about the Merry Gentleman is when the movie mercifully comes to a conclusion. In limited release so, perhaps, the film studio feels the same way this reviewer does about a flat Christmas movie playing throughout springtime. Ben Affleck’s superb direction of Gone, Baby, Gone, is the barometer and when one puts this film by an actor switching hats against that film by an actor switching hats, well…