The logline of The Kill Room sounds like the start of some bad joke. A hitman, his boss, an art dealer, and a money-laundering scheme—what could possibly go wrong? This dark comedy crime/thriller is far more entertaining than I had ever expected. Setting aside the obvious draw of a Pulp Fiction reunion with the likes of Uma Thurman and Samuel L. Jackson sharing the screen together, the ensemble cast also includes True Blood/Magic Mike heartthrob Joe Manganiello and Stranger Things breakout Maya Hawke in key roles. Money, conceptual art, and dead bodies stack the odds in favor of The Kill Room.
Patrice (Thurman) is just about as terrible of an art dealer as one could possibly imagine. She refuses to pay for the press her exhibits deserve, and desperately longs for the kind of acclaim to get her Program Gallery covered by critic The Kimono (Debi Mazar). Without sales to back up her gallery, Patrice finds herself on the fringes of disaster; her one genuinely great client jumps ship, and new artist Grace (Hawke) openly airs out her frustrations at the lack of attention.
By some twist of fate, bag-murdering hitman Reggie (Manganiello) and his drug-running boss, Gordon (Jackson), are in desperate need of a new way to launder their funds through legitimate sources. Gordon personally makes a trip to Patrice’s gallery, propositioning her with a mutually beneficial arrangement. He wants to hire her as a “consultant,” hopeful that Patrice will agree on account of her own desperation. Though initially reluctant, Patrice decides to embrace a potential new moneymaker. It is not like the faux art Gordon promises will do much anyway.
Reggie builds genuine artwork from scratch on canvas, under the guise of the mysterious-sounding Bag Man. Much to the surprise of everyone involved, The Bag Man becomes a major interest in the art world. His pieces convey a trashy grime reflective of Reggie’s inner demons. When The Bag Man’s first piece sells for $150,000, Reggie incidentally sets Patrice’s struggling gallery off to an outrageous start. Collectors circle, anxious to throw down serious money. With so many moving pieces, director Nicol Paone gives us some great on-screen pairings. Perhaps most surprising are Thurman and Manganiello—the duo get the best lines of dialogue, and have strong characters fleshed out by a breezy script.
The Kill Room may not reach the heights of anticipated insanity, but it is all fun enough to make for a companion piece to 2023’s other “accidental crime” comedy, Mafia Mamma. Both movies cater to a very specific brand of humor, and both films feature a strong female at their center. The Kill Room raises some serious questions about the price of fame and success; mostly though, it is just presenting a particular piece of art to entertain a niche audience.
Prepare for the opening of a new exhibit when The Kill Room debuts exclusively in theaters on Thursday, September 28th, after premiering at the Woodstock Film Festival.