Funny Money

John Dahl
John Dahl answers questions about his new film, You Kill Me.

There are two new comedies opening next weekend (6/22/07). They both mine seemingly unlikely territory for laughs: One has a man building an ark in anticipation of a giant flood destroying the world and the other one is about an alcoholic whose career suffers from his constant drinking. His job? Hitman. One reportedly cost $175 million (before advertising) and the other one cost a paltry $4 million. One is schedule to open in over 3500 theaters and the other one will be lucky to get 50. The first film, Evan Almighty (sequel to Bruce Almighty), is the centerpiece summer tent pole from a major studio and the second, John Dahl’s You Kill Me is based on a script that’s been bouncing around Hollywood for 10 years. I’ve only seen the latter so it’s probably not fair of me to compare them, but I’m going to go out on a $171 million limb and predict that You Kill Me offers more laughs per dollar spent than Universal’s blockbuster.

The question I have is, can you buy comedy? How much of Evan Almighty‘s budget went towards making it funnier? The spec script alone (from unproduced writers) was purchased for $2.5 million plus a percentage of the film’s profits (if there are any). For another million and a half, John Dahl (Red Rock West, The Last Seduction, Rounders) made a whole movie and a pretty good one. You could make a You Kill Me every day for 40 days and nights and you still wouldn’t spend as much as Universal has on Evan Almighty.

Where did all the money go? I assume the producers of Evan Almighty spent a lot of money on digital effects. The interesting thing is, at a Q&A following a recent screening of You Kill Me, John Dahl said that his film also relied on digital technology. The difference is, rather than inflate the budget, digital effects allowed them to work more cheaply. The story splits time between San Francisco and Buffalo in the winter. They couldn’t afford to film in both locations, so they chose Winnipeg, Canada and filled in the blanks with digital trickery. Because mother nature didn’t cooperate, winter ended early and they even had to fake the snow for the scenes in Buffalo.

I’ll have a full review of You Kill Me later. For now, I’ll simply say it may not be a grand slam, but it’s a solid double up the middle. It’s a bone-dry black comedy with Ben Kingsley as a hitman working for a Polish mob in Buffalo that is desperately trying to hold on to it’s little corner of the family snow plowing business. When Kingsley sleeps through an important hit on the leader of a rival Irish mob, he’s sent to San Francisco to get cleaned up. While there he meets and falls in love with Téa Leoni. Kingsley and Leone are terrific and there is great supporting work from Bill Pullman, Luke Wilson and Dennis Farina. It’s a genuinely small film that deserves your business. Check it out when it comes to your neighborhood.

Sunday’s NY Times has an article about screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely. This is the 1st script they wrote (the 2nd if you count one that’s rotting in a drawer) but they’ve already had two scripts produced: The Life and Death of Peter Sellers for HBO and the first Narnia film, The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe for Disney. The 2nd Narnia film is due in 2008.

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2 thoughts on “Funny Money

  1. This is on our shortlist to see, but since I live in Portland it probably won’t hit town until middle of July. Such is the way with these smaller films.

  2. Before the Internet, slow releases weren’t so much of a frustration, but now you can have a movie jammed down your throat before it ever even has a chance to play where you live.

    I hope You Kill Me doesn’t get completely buried in the summer hubbub and that a few people check it out.

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