"I've never done anything violent to anyone," says the mild-mannered Vann Siegert, "Just the minimum that was necessary." Indeed, if you have to get knocked off by a serial killer, Vann (Owen Wilson) is definitely your man. Just a quick, sweet swig from a silver flask of poisoned amaretto and you're out, with a narcoleptic slump into eternal slumber. There's no taunting or torturing; he's friendly about the whole thing. You can see Vann almost--''almost''--wishing his victims wouldn't take that final sip. He doesn't hold any particular grudge against these people; rather, as he puts it, "I take the natural momentum of a person and draw it toward me." If someone looks like they're on a crash course--like the boozy, asthmatic heroin addict played convincingly by Sheryl Crow, her acting debut--he merely accelerates the process.
Wilson proves to be a mesmerizing if unlikely serial killer, his flat, Midwestern delivery ringing more sincere than sinister, more Charlie Brown than Charles Manson. His voiceovers purportedly allow us into the mind of a killer, but what we hear isn't all that different from what we see. Vann isn't faking the nice-guy veneer, he ''is'' a nice guy, with this one little quirk. Clearly, this is not your typical edge-of-your-seat thriller, but the slow, dreamy pace is nonetheless entrancing. There are moments of intense grace and humor here, too. Janeane Garofalo breaks away from the smart-aleck mold to portray a postal employee smitten with Vann, and Mercedes Ruehl takes a compelling turn as his troubled landlady. "I like the detail of a thing," Vann says. "Especially if it's got a purpose." While we may not know for certain whether this film has a purpose, the details dare you to stop watching, even for an instant. ''--Brangien Davis''