well acted, despite some narrative difficulties. And Keaton has delivered oodles of richly textured atmosphere.

Ron Lazzeretti's screenplay begins with the shy Kate Frazier (Kelly Macdonald) fleeing her abusive husband. She ends up in Chicago, taking a receptionist job to begin life anew.

Meanwhile assassin-for-hire Frank Logan (Keaton) goes about his bloody business. He may be working too hard; he collapses in sobs after each hit.

One snowy night after a kill, a depressed Frank prepares to leap from the roof of a building. He's spotted by Kate, who has just emerged from her office. She cries out; he vanishes.

It doesn't take long for Chicago cop Dave Murcheson (Tom Bastounes) to realize that the would-be jumper is most likely the killer.

Both men begin to court Kate. Frank arranges an "accidental" meeting (to make sure she doesn't recognize him), then befriends the woman. His interest isn't sexual . . . he seems simply to need some human contact.

Dave, on the other hand, is a semi-alcoholic chain smoker on the bounce from a bad marriage. He offers to buy Kate dinner, ostensibly to pick her memory for clues but mostly because he thinks she's cute. When she finds out his interest is romantic she freaks.

Curiously, the cop is creepier than the killer, who becomes the woman's guardian angel.

"The Merry Gentleman" (the Christmas-y title is way ironic) almost goes off the rails with the arrival of Kate's hubby (Bobby Cannavale), who in recent weeks has gotten religion and can't say "Hello" without adding, "Praise Jesus!" Happily, this character isn't around long.

The film is never as good as its parts - some of which are very good indeed. But Keaton knows how to control the medium and establishes a palpable mood without getting all artsy. It's a good start. *

Produced by Steven A. Jones, directed by Michael Keaton, written by Ron Lazzeretti, distributed by Samuel Goldwyn Films.