Second chances are rare for falling stars in Hollywood, but Ryan Reynolds may just be carving one out. He’s hiking the route to Hollywood peak again: before mouthy merc Deadpool, you can see him in off-piste indies like Mississippi Grind and this surreal psycho-satire about potty-mouthed cats and killing.
The serial-killer market being busy, comic-book artist/Persepolis director Marjane Satrapi does well to hack out fresh turf here – until the trying-too-hard stretch marks show. But there are no quirk stains on Reynolds, who pins down his best role since 2010 as Jerry, a dork-ish bathroom-factory employee who’s just that bit too perky for comfort. Jerry has issues. Worse still, he has a sweary Scottish moggy-most-horrid named Mr Whiskers (voiced by Reynolds, seemingly mimicking Peter Mullan), who argues intently that murder is in Jerry’s nature after he sort-of-accidentally kills (then chops up) boisterous factory temp Fiona (Gemma Arterton).
With Fiona’s head (still babbling away) relocated to Jerry’s fridge, Mr Whiskers encourages Jerry’s hobby. And puss is so persuasive that even Jerry’s amiable bull mastiff Bosco (Reynolds again, aping Gary Busey) can’t dissuade him from finding Fiona’s head a fridge-mate.
With every beat pitched subtly ‘off’ without collapsing into geek-freak caricature, Reynolds finds that sweet spot where excessive sincerity can spook, whether complimenting a (balding) co-worker on his hair or straining to blend in. His co-stars are equally on-key. Arterton spikes her good-time gal’s brassy cheer with bite, and Anna Kendrick brings sweeter depths to her co-worker Lisa, whose meekness throws Jerry’s madness into perspective: while his neediness harbours demons, hers is a by-product of innate niceness. Animal Kingdom’s Jacki Weaver nails every note too, in a small but pivotal role as a therapist.
The problem is that the right directorial key eludes Satrapi. Working from a tricksy script by Michael R Perry (Paranormal Activity 2), she evokes Jerry’s off-his-meds mindset with a heightened sense of reality, where pink overalls dazzle and butterflies hover around Fiona, Amelie-style. But Satrapi struggles to find other tones.
The cod-psychology flashbacks to Jerry’s upbringing and trad-thriller end-stretch make you wonder if you’re watching a splatter-gun small-town satire, Psycho in art-trash drag or just the whole, blackly comic lot mashed up without a map. But at least Reynolds looks like a man finding his way to take risks once more.