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MOVIE "Hit Man"

WHERE Netflix

WHAT IT'S ABOUT The filmmaker Richard Linklater has been most commonly associated with a particular strain of American independent film since he burst onto the scene with the Austin, Texas-based one-two punch of “Slacker” and “Dazed and Confused” in the early 1990s.

But in the decades since he brought those stories of ennui and disaffection to life, Linklater has carved out a simultaneous reputation for being an adept maker of smart, modestly sized Hollywood comedies, movies that manage to pack in commercial appeal without insulting the intelligence of their audience.

“Hit Man,” his latest picture, has little in common with, say, “School of Rock” except for that intrinsic quality.

Glen Powell (“Anyone But You”), the up-and-coming star, plays a college professor named Gary Johnson. He teaches Freudian concepts of the id and superego to students by day and moonlights with the New Orleans Police Department, where he pretends to be a contract killer, soliciting potential clients in stings.

Things become rather complicated when an intense attraction develops between Johnson and Maddy Masters (Adria Arjona), one of those individuals eager for his illicit services.

“Hit Man” debuts on Netflix with a healthy amount of buzz, after premiering to great acclaim at the annual film festivals in Venice and Toronto last fall. A limited theatrical run remains ongoing at the Sag Harbor Cinema.

MY SAY For as long as there have been movies, there have been protests that they “don't make them like they used to” make them.

There's always some truth to this: the movie industry evolves, changes and transforms like any other industry, for reasons that are both positive and negative.

But at the same time, the complaint becomes tired. Why mourn what's lost rather than focus on the present and the future?

That being said, “Hit Man” is exactly the sort of movie that “they” used to make and almost never do any more: A mid-budget, adult-oriented comedy that's funny, clever and well-written, without an agenda crafted in a corporate boardroom somewhere.

Linklater and Powell co-wrote the script, adapted from a 2001 Texas Monthly article, and it works on several levels.

It's a sharp satire about the ethical and moral quandaries of Johnson's bizarre undercover job, utilizing crisp pacing and a multitude of amusing setups to establish its framework, as he dons disguises and meets his marks.

It's an affecting romance, about two likable and deeply conflicted people. Powell and Arjona make you believe it, even as the characters engage in some serious deception.

You could fire up Netflix, engage with the picture solely on these levels, and leave it perfectly satisfied.

But it has more on its mind than the basics, evoking in Johnson's story something essential and meaningful about what the eternal battle between the different elements of our personality looks like.

So, “Hit Man” reveals itself in classic Linklater fashion. Below the shiny and accessible surface lies something more expansive, waiting for anyone that might be open to it.

BOTTOM LINE It's funny, romantic and smart. What more could you want?

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