Quirky hitman movies are nothing new, and unfortunately the plots themselves are, well, never anything overly original. After all, there are only so many twists you can come up with when the premise must always revolve around a killer who, for one reason or another, begins to question his profession. Some movies manage to find new twists, like a killer in witness protection, another going to his high school reunion, or the one who ends up in AA. In the British comedy “The Baker”, the killer tries to start a new life as a baker in a quaint Welsh town, where, as it turns out, the locals are more bloody thirsty than he is.
“The Baker” has the added novelty of starring two European actors who have since made themselves household names in the U.S. with separate high-profile TV shows. Star Damian Lewis, here playing Milo, the hitman who decides to call it quits, is currently defending truth and justice in L.A. on the cop show “Life”. Meanwhile, Milo’s nemesis Bjorn, who is assigned to take out the wayward hitman, is played by Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, who is currently protecting the mean streets of New York in the fantasy/cop hybrid “New Amsterdam”. (Perhaps as a bit of an inside gag, Coster-Waldau manages to slip in a number of plugs for his new show on FOX.)
The film follows Milo, who after a botched hit, flees to a small town in the countryside, where he is initially mistaken for the overdue baker. Unfortunately for him, he can’t cook to save his life. Mind you, that’s not all Milo has to worry about. For one, the cache of guns that he buried upon arriving in town has since been unearthed by local boy Eggs (Dyfan Dwyfor), who is also fond of homemade explosives and other things that go bang. On the bright side, Milo does catch the eye of the spunky town vet (Kate Ashfield, “Shaun of the Dead”). Meanwhile, back in the city, Milo’s retired buddy Leo (Michael Gambon, the “Harry Potter” films) is back on the job trying to get Milo off the hook. This, not surprisingly, involves killing people.
Alas, life in a small town is not all it’s cracked up to be. (Did I mention the hitman-turned-baker can’t really cook?) Eventually, the baker’s past is revealed. Just in time, too, as it turns out everyone in town has a motive for wanting someone else in town dead, and they’re willing to pay the baker to do the deed. (He’s not just a baker, he’s The Baker, as one character puts it.) Chocolate cake, as it turns out, means something else in hitman parlance. Meanwhile, Bjorn is getting closer; who knew there were so many restaurants named “Cod Almighty” in the UK?
Not surprisingly, a movie like “The Baker” is only as strong as its array of colorful characters. Some are more successful than others, with the poor fish restaurateur’s painful home life being the highlight. Others, like the two feuding neighbors, make for odious comedy fodder. Other characters are somewhere in-between: Eggs gets annoying after a while, I can’t even remember the name of the pub owner who quotes Shakespeare, and everyone else makes little impact. It’s also curious that Milo never really interacts all that much with the townspeople. In fact, he mostly just talks to a few of them over the course of the entire movie, which makes the film’s deus ex machina ending all the more silly.
For most, “The Baker” will be worthwhile simply because it stars Damian Lewis, who audiences in the States may not only know as the star of NBC’s “Life”, but also as the lead in the HBO epic mini-series “Band of Brothers”. Damian has comedic chops, and his Milo is very likeable throughout the film. Also good is Coster-Waldau as Milo’s foil, an eccentric hitman in his own right, who literally drives about the UK with a list of restaurants, where each stop invariably ends with him torturing the proprietor to death until he finds the right one. The film offers up something of a twist that involves Milo and Bjorn’s history, except Bjorn is the only one who seems aware of it.
“The Baker” is written and directed by Gareth Lewis (if the name sounds familiar, that’s because Gareth is the brother of Damian), here making his feature-length directorial debut. While it doesn’t break any new ground, and indeed it seems content to play it safe throughout, “The Baker” is still a success in that it entertains. The only real disappointment is the lack of action, forcing the film to rely too much on a series of sitcom-ish misunderstandings between Milo and the townspeople. As any fan of the quirky hitman sub-genre knows, maintaining the balance between action and comedy is a must. “The Baker” gets it mostly right on the comedy front, but is woefully lacking on the action, as in, there’s barely any.
Gareth Lewis (director) / Gareth Lewis (screenplay)
CAST: Damian Lewis … Milo
Kate Ashfield … Rhiannon
Nikolaj Coster-Waldau … Bjorn
Michael Gambon … Leo
Annette Badland … Martha
Dyfan Dwyfor … Eggs