Alex, a hit man, tries to get out of the family business, but his father won't let him do so. While seeking the help of a therapist, he meets a sexually charged 23-year-old woman with whom he falls in love.
Alex, a sad-eyed mournful man, goes into psychotherapy: he discloses he's a hit man. He also tells the doctor, after a few sessions, that he's attracted to a young woman he's met in the waiting room. She's Sarah, 23, quick, edgy, and perhaps attracted to him as well. But he's married, the dutiful father of a young precocious boy, so Sarah brushes him off. In flashbacks we see him get his start as a killer, at his father's prompting: it's the family business. Dad gives Alex his next assignment: to kill the therapist. Alex keeps returning to Sarah, calling her, stopping by her apartment, as he decides what to do about the hit, his father, his marriage, and his malaise. Written by
PANIC (2000) **1/2 William H. Macy, Neve Campbell, Tracey Ullman, Donald Sutherland, John Ritter, Barbara Bain, David Dorfman. (Dir: Henry Bromell)
Character actor William H. Macy has that certain beleagured, world-weary, kicked-dog look about him that fits like a cheap suit but all the same a perfect match for his deceptive moping demeanor. In this black comedy he plays Alex, a depressed contract killer who decides to see a therapist to come to terms with `the family business' with his overbearing father (the always underrated and subtly silky Sutherland) who taught Macy in his preadolescence the fine art of killing for a career. Unbeknownst to his adoring wife Martha (a surprisingly low-key dramatic turn by comedy superstar Ullman) and his precociously wise-beyond-his-years 6 year old Sammy (newcomer Dorfman; cute kid), Alex is seeing Dr. Parks (Ritter) on the sly and his only confidante is his mother (Bain, who seems to have been off the screen radar for some time) who seems like one shrewd cookie (after all that's how her husband got his job!) Unsure of the risk in seeing the shrink, Alex continues when he meets in the waiting room Sarah (the wonderful Campbell, in a nicely played role), a beautiful young woman, who is seeing another psychologist in the adjoining office building. He is immediately smitten by her but remains guarded the entire time, plotting for the right moment which never seems to come.
What makes matters worse is his latest offing: to kill Parks. This conflict of interest gnaws at him and only adds fuel to the fire for his desire for Sarah, who also harbors a yen for the gloomy fellow traveler. All this adds up for some sly dialogue, innuendo and ultimately a final confrontation with Alex facing his fears - his father, his `job' and Sarah over his family. Macy is in fine form with his mild-mannered family man clearly at odds with his other life and the desire he has for Campbell who also acquits herself nicely as the bluntly spoken bisexual freespirit. The film pales in comparison to the latest splinter faction of hitmen in analysis fodder (`Grosse Pointe Blank', `Analyze This' and `The Sopranos') yet it balances the fine line of comedy and tragedy particularly thanks to the cool undulating tones of Sutherland (witness his threat to his son in a bowling alley bar that goes from ice cold to sunny as he impromptu dances with a waitress). If you like your noir with a touch of comedy this is the film for you.
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