When it comes to New York real estate in the '80s, intimidation, theft and even arson were considered legitimate business practices. So when meek Joe Peltz (Krumholtz) moves himself and his pregnant green-card wife into an illegal squat in Alphabet City, it's only a matter of time before he's stealing pipes to fix the plumbing and patrolling the basement with a baseball bat to keep the junkies at bay. Back in his grand-parents' old neighborhood (the fictitious Avenue E) against the wishes of his uncle Yakov (Gorman), Joe joins up with "the Corporation," a loose association of misfit tenants whose main function is to whine about Carlos (Calderon), the menacing squatter who refuses to pay rent.
Krumholtz shows promise as the nebbishy newcomer, but his character is so cowardly and indecisive, it's hard to embrace his struggle to protect his new family while maintaining the peace in the building. Lemony Snicket scribe Daniel Handler wrote the screenplay (based on a novel by Joel Rose), and though it's easy to imagine the Baudelaire children trapped in this appalling downtown rat hole, there's little else to suggest Handler's handiwork. The film flutters between a whodunit and trite social commentary without investing much in its various stock characters. A last-minute scare is shoehorned in to inject suspense, but the effort is manipulative. As it stands, Kill the Poor has all the melodrama of a snooze-filled co-op-board meeting. (Opens Fri; IFC Center.)—Dan Avery