A bizarre comedy noir that feels like something that could have worked in better hands, No Panic, With A Hint Of Hysteria is one of the many titles in the filmography of Polish writer-director Tomasz Szafranski. Having started his career in his early twenties, Szafranski has been working in film and TV now for just over two full decades. I don't know if his other work tends to be better than this, but I'm certainly not enthused to be exploring more of his work after getting through this one.
Alexander Chance plays Toby, an accountant who is trying to move into the more lucrative role of hitman. He is being mentored by Fakir (Toasz Karolak), but isn't really showing himself as a natural fit for the job. A disastrous convergence of unfortunate events lead to Toby and his wife (Melanie, played by Charlotte Kirk) trying to dispose of a corpse, dealing with someone Toby quite rightly assumed was already dead, and placating various dangerous characters while avoiding too much attention from the police.
Set up as a classic farce, and low-key enough for most of the runtime to feel as if it's been adapted from a stage play, No Panic, With A Hint Of Hysteria feels overdone, mishandled, decades too late, and (ironically enough) just poorly executed in almost every way. Szafranski clearly knew what he wanted to deliver, but he ties one hand behind his back from the very start by assembling such a weak cast.
Chance is arguably the biggest weakness, considering his character is the focus of pretty much every scene. It's a role that requires someone who can perform with the required comedy skills, appeal, and physical prowess, and Chance appears to have none of those things. Having him acting alongside Charlotte Kirk doesn't help, her being a performer yet to show any talent worthy of some of the roles she has managed to bag, and watching her and Chance interact is the cinematic equivalent of a fish trying to ride a bicycle. It's unnatural, and it just doesn't work. Karolak only has a few scenes, Stephen Baldwin has a central role (and tries hard, but is hampered by the material . . . and by being more affordable and available than Alec for a reason), and other people have to spend time looking mean or dopey while Szafranski continues to move the pieces into place for the finale. Magdalena Lamparska is a highlight as Kamila, we'll call her The Woman In Red, but she's sidelined almost immediately after making a strong impression in her very first scenes.
The convoluted plotting doesn't give you anything to care about, the comedy doesn't work, and the cast give nothing. The visual style throughout is admittedly decent (shout out to cinematographer Michael Grabowski and the others who helped maintain the specific palette), with muted colours and framing emphasising the noir over the comedy, but that's a very minor saving grace in a film far too overstuffed with mis-steps and major failings, including a poor score from Luke Corradine. No need to panic though, this is one easily avoided. I just happened to find it buried on Netflix, and I should have left it buried. Considering one of the main plot points, the irony is not lost on me.
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