You’ve got a good thing going. The picture is clicking. Kind of. The stars have chemistry. OK, a little bit.
The bad guys are SCARY. And mouthy.
Because the dialogue? It’s got bite.
“You’re messing up my life!”
“What life? You collect records and KILL people!”
But the odd lapse in logic, here and there, doesn’t prepare us for the loopy, dopey, drooping finale to “Love Shot,” a hit-man romance set “Once upon a time in Koreatown.”
That’s the hook in writer-director Steven Fine’s amiable, if violent, action rom-com. Everybody is all about Koreatown — Korean mobsters, Korean doumi “karaoke hostesses,”Korean BBQ.
“Try the BiBimBap!”
“Can we get some soju?”
Mobsters are fighting over who can land the right TV contest-winning chef for their Koreatown restaurant, and nobody is going to outfox the Jewish mobster Tony (John Kapelos, a veteran character actor immortalized as the “cokehead” investment advisor Barry on “Seinfeld”).
Tony’s got a numbnuts assistant (Cruz Kim) who is always mistaking the boss’s intention, always a step behind the boss in conversation. They look at video of a mob massacre in an eatery Tony has subsequently taken over. One minute, he’s wondering who this “VERY professional triggerman” is, the next, whether or not he can keep the chef on after this violent night.
“Wonder if he’s got a signature dish?” A pause for Slim (Kim) to figure out who he’s talking about. “The CHEF!”
The movie’s about the triggerman. Max (Dakota Loesch of “Buzzkill” and “Scraper”) is a soul and funk fanatic. Forget the unkempt stubble, the omni-present hitman’s black stocking gap, the gapped teeth. Or at least look past them.
The most lovely 60s-90s soul is seeping through the ear buds. A stranger on the street (Amy Tsang) recognizes The Turner Brothers. They end up taking the same commuter train. He dozes off, she leaves her number.
And wouldn’t you know it? Max’s next job, the tiny red dossier he’s handed at a Korean convenience store, along with a fresh pack of cigarettes, is a picture of her — Karen.
Max is to “hit” this woman whose soul-music loving soul makes her his soul mate. Or so he thinks.
He sees and hears her at a karaoke bar, where she’s a doumi (sometimes spelled “domi”), a karaoke bar-girl/hostess, your “company for the night,” singing to you, drinking with you, encouraging you to run up a tab.
But when Max asks her out, he decides to come clean. It wasn’t fate or “kismet” that sent him to that bar. Who, exactly, wants her dead? And would she like to come over and listen to his record collection while they figure that out and he protects her from her fate?
“I met you, and it was like gettin’ shot — shot in the stomach. Now I’ve got this heaviness there and I don’t want it to go away.”
The whole set up, kind of “High Fidelity” meets “Grosse Point Blank,” to go all Cusack in high concept-ese, is so cute you want to pinch its cheeks.
Tsang (“Shameless”) has a beguiling mystery about her. I don’t know for sure that the crackling, sultry Patti Smith voice she “sings” her sultry “I Think We’re Alone Now” in is actually her voice. But I hope so.
Loesch is merely OK in their scenes together, trying to impress her with his music, his quick-draw (acted out in the mirror). His real chemistry is with Kapelos.
Hit-man movies are a genre unto themselves, and “Love Shot” relies on decades of tropes — Max stalking quarries who carry 1980s style aluminum drug dealer briefcases, Max scoping out Karen through the scope of his sniper rifle.
Writer-director Fine struggles to make this murdering — there is blood, one grisly strangling — cute. We can root for Max (kind of) as he finally meets a contract he cannot carry out.
His low-voiced exchange of questions, obfuscations and threats with the Korean Koreatown mobsters who wrote the contract, all his contracts, “10 years and nothing” but the hits, has a tetchy edge.
“You can’t get rid of me. I know too much.”
“You don’t talk to us like that!”
On the way out, the mass murderer stops to compliment the chef — “That was a great job with the bibimbap!”
Tsang gives a wary fatalism to Karen. She takes the news that there’s a contract on her as an insult. But thinking for a second further, she accepts it at face value. She knows something, worries she might have it coming.
Karen and Max keep secrets from each other.
The stylistic highlight is a recreation of a doumi hostess confrontation that might play into why Karen has been targeted, a wordless scene with music playing behind it, threats of violence in her gestures and actions.
Kapelos has his finest moment in one of several scenes where Tony plays up his Jewishness, a pissing match with a business rival where fate is tied to a spin of the dreidel.
Max lies about his affection for his new “boss” Tony — “Total mensch. Love’em.”
Tony is touched by Max’s “one last job” promise, giving it all up for the love of a good woman.
“A romantic ronin!” Tony exults, and then ruins it by repeating himself. “How romantic.”
But getting back to the resolution of this all, the finale that seems unearned, tacked on, with characters exhibiting cunning that nothing they’ve done before prepares us for. I mean, Karen seems like an in-the-moment flake, teetering from one mistake to the next.
Max? He has a life, or so this close-but-no-cigar hitman rom-com would have us believe. We, like Karen, know better.
“What life? You collect records and KILL people!”
MPAA Rating: unrated, bloody violence, nudity
Cast: Dakota Loesch, Amy Tsang, John Kapelos, Cruz Kim, Victor J. Ho
Credits: Written and directed by Steven Fine. A Gravitas Ventures release.
Running time: 1:21