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such a nasty woman | by maryann johanson

Killers (review)

Just Shoot Me

I think I know what happened here. Ted Griffin — who wrote the smart and wickedly funny Ocean’s Eleven and the smart, wicked, bitterly mean, and little-seen Best Laid Plans and Ravenous — put down on paper a story about a CIA killer who needs to hide out, and so he latches himself onto the worst example of conformist, childlike womanhood he can find, all the better to lose himself in vapid suburbia, where the Company and his enemies will surely never, ever find him. And by the end of the film, perhaps, the clever, cagey killer is driven so mad by his idiot wife and his idiot neighbors and the mind-numbing monotony of perfect lawns and sparkling swimming pools and the necessity of keeping up with the Joneses that he willingly goes back to his life of danger and violence out of sheer boredom.
I bet that was a great script. Give it to the Coen Brothers, cast Robert Downey Jr. as the assassin and Kate Winslet as the wife — cuz, man, she’d be awesome sending up the flip side of her Revolutionary Road suburbian nonconformist — and we’re talking genius-level hilarity, incisive satire that could have blown holes in all sorts of cultural bases for our fucked-up society and been wildly entertaining in the process.

Instead, Ashton Kutcher got ahold of this script, cast himself as producer and star, and decided it was all a bit too dark. So he brought in screenwriter Bob DeRosa, who wroter the laughably bad indie The Air I Breathe, to get rid of all the satirical and intelligent stuff, because — *pfft* — who needs that? And then he brought in director Robert Luketic, who made the execrable The Ugly Truth, and Luketic brought Katherine Heigl onboard, because Luketic and Heigl are totes besties when it comes to setting women back half a century, to the time when women were believed to be nothing more than adorable children and that’s the way it should be.

Killers may not have come about in precisely that way, but you could be forgiven for taking the evidence of what actually ended up onscreen and coming to this conclusion.

The notion of Ashton Kutcher (Valentine’s Day, Open Season) as a hired killer for the CIA is, in some alternate universe with a sense of irony and the absurd, the basis for a wickedly funny black comedy. For this is the actor — I use the term loosely; Kutcher may be a minorly ingratiating screen presence, but it’s not for any talent that he has beyond looking good and not tripping over the furniture — this is the actor perhaps least able to muster a dark side. He’s barely plausible in those TV ads for digital cameras, sneaking up on people to take their pictures. A spy and hired killer? Don’t make me laugh.

Coincidentally enough, Killers did not make me laugh.

We don’t live in that alternate universe in which even Ashton Kutcher in this movie might have worked. We live in the universe in which Katherine Heigl (Knocked Up) is, bizarrely, apparently held to be the second coming of Katharine Hepburn, so often is she foisted upon us in movies insisting they are both romantic and comedic (27 Dresses should be burned for its crimes against women and cinema). Here, in what passes, in our sad age, for a screwball comedy, she is a woman-child, still tethered to her parents (Catherine O’Hara [Where the Wild Things Are, For Your Consideration] and Tom Selleck [Running Mates, The Love Letter]) in her 30s, a person who does not, at this relatively advanced age, know her own name. (Is it Jen? Jenny? Jennifer? Who can be expected to make such decisions? Names are hard!) In that alternate, ironic, absurdist-loving universe, Kutcher’s CIA killer is merely using Heigl for his own mysterious purposes when he “falls in love” with her and, dear god, marries her, for what adult man would not run screaming from such a nightmare of a woman unless there was something in it for him?

But — and here’s where I finally lost it, when I realized this — Heigl’s Jen is meant to be appealing. She is meant to represent something that Kutcher’s Spencer has been missing. I didn’t realize that men yearned for a ditz who morphs into a controlling bitch nag, that this feels like home to men, but it appears I have been misled all these many years. Spencer actually likes playing suburban house with Jen, an infant with no personality, no friends to speak of, nothing at all, it seems… until — whoopsie daisy! — a pregnancy scare in the middle of assassin shenanigans upsets things, and proves to Jen that nothing is more important than being a mommy.

Oh, yeah, didn’t I mention? Spencer’s past catches up with him, of course, and so come into play brutally unfunny “comedy,” tedious “action,” and a level of coincidence that could only be a CIA plot to allow everything to wrap up neatly. Every time you think Killers can’t get more excruciating, it proves you wrong. Perhaps grinding everything to a halt so Katherine Heigl can pee on a stick really was the best diversion from that the movie could come up with.

MPAA: rated PG-13 for violent action, sexual material and language

viewed at a private screening with an audience of critics

official site | IMDb | trailer
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine
  • Craig Stevens

    Dude — fair enough to trash it, the movie’s crap, but first get your facts straight. It’s not hard to do a little digging and find out what ACTUALLY happened, which is EXACTLY the reverse of what you’ve got here. DeRosa wrote the original script — it’s online, find it, read it, it’s awesome and bears NO RESEMBLANCE — literally, not word one — to the rewrite that Ted Griffin did that landed on the screen. Go on, look it up. If you really can’t find it, email me and I’ll send it to you.


  • MaryAnn

    Same difference. Dude.

  • Aron Green

    Please include more philosophical references in your insightful acerbic and well written essays.

  • Jen

    I am a lurker de-lurking first to express appreciation for the witty prose of your review, and second to suggest that you provide some better examples to show that Heigl’s character is the insult to adult womankind you describe her to be in this film.

    We 30-something Jennifers, first of all, are really used to being in situations where there are a number of others around with the same name, especially in school or professional contexts, and we often have to take second or third choice on what to be called. This tends to lead to some general flexibility around what people call us, even sometimes a resigned passivity about it. Also great confusion amongst friends who met us in different contexts and sometimes great difficulty asserting our preferred permutation (though the Look of Death has managed to pretty well eliminate Jenny, I’ve noticed).

    Also plenty of 30-something folks are living with their parents in this economy. That by itself really is no longer a mark of childishness (and in some economic brackets and subcultures it never was). The type of relationship you have to your parents and the reason why you are living with them says a lot more.

    Surely the stuff about having no friends or sense of identity is getting a bit closer to illustrating why she’s so unappealing?

    I’m sure she’s every bit the ditz in this film that you say she is. But I was really interested to hear just how badly women are portrayed in this film and instead I feel like you threw out a sort of weak stereotype (about adults who live with their parents) with no context to back it up. And the Jennifer thing … just … have you ever been in a class with 4 other people who have the same name as you? Cause, yeah … the Jennifer thing gets confusing sometimes, I swear.

  • MaryAnn

    Jen/Jenny/Jennifer does not live with her parents. I didn’t say that she did. She just lets them run her life in a way that no adult should.

    And there are no other Jennifers around when Jen/Jenny/Jennifer has her moment of unsurety about her name.

    She’s just a ditz and a child. Full stop.

  • Heh. My late father and one of my first cousins have the same real-life first name as I do–and my faather did not believe in using “sr.” or “jr.” (He considered it an American affectation.)

    Indeed, I can look up my real-life name online and find dozens–if not hundreds–of people with my same name who are in no way related to me. And my name isn’t half as common as, say, other people I know who have names like John or Mario or Maria or Nancy* or Ann or even MaryAnn.

    So I imagine having a name like Jennifer can be confusing. I used to work with two people named Jennifer at the same time and though one was blonde and the other was brunette, I imagine it was very confusing when the boss called for one by her first name and the other one would show up.

    That said, if you read MaryAnn’s review for Failure to Launch, Jen, you’ll generally find that she is quite sympathetic to 30somethings having to live with their parents for economic reasons.

    It’s bad writing she has an issue with.

    * I have two female friends and a favorite first cousin named Nancy and it used to be a running joke with my younger siblings to kid me about either my two Nancys or my three Nancys. I have also known more than one person in real life named MaryAnn but let’s not go there.

  • Jen

    Huh, sorry I have no idea why I read that wrong. >.

  • aquila6

    Huh. I just thought this movie was meant to be some sort of beat-you-to-the-box-office ripoff of the upcoming Knight and Day. You know, the same way The Abyss got ripped off by Leviathan (which, in turn, was ripped off by Deepstar Six). Ripoffs of this sort are never as good as the movie they are ripping off. For that reason alone, I wouldn’t see it if you gave me the ticket and popcorn and a large rootbeer for free.

    Add Ashton Kutcher to the mix and you’ve got the equivalent of cinematic cyanide.

  • Lisa

    There were 14 people in my italian class in school and 5 of them were called Lisa. It was slighly better at university as there were more 19 of us and only 3 Lisas. Sometimes we were numbered!

  • GoodApprentice

    As always, an enjoyable and well-written review. I had no intentions of seeing this film, but I knew that MaryAnn’s review of it would certainly be entertaining. It’s the one good byproduct of a
    horrible movie release.

    Listen up Heigl. It is a woman of wit and words who is truly appealing!

  • I_Sell_Books

    Ravenous is brilliant! I’d love to see the movie you talked about instead of Kutcher and Heigl’s Killers…

  • I_Sell_Books

    Just a shout-out to all the Amy’s out there. Back in the day (the early 90’s) I lived with two women named Amy, and hung out with 3 other different Amy’s. Funnily enough, it’s the new hot baby name in Britain, preferably spelled all European as ‘Aimee’. So foreign, natch.

  • MaryAnn

    I was almost named Jennifer. And I can well imagine the hassles that would have caused, because it seems like every third woman my age is named Jennifer. Certainly, when I was a kid, there were always multiple Jennifers in every class at school. (On the other hand, I have never met another MaryAnn — of any of the many spelling variations — my own age. All the MaryAnns I’ve ever met have been at least 15 years old than me, most ever older.)

    So, Jen, I can appreciate that you might have issues with the name, but I promise you that your legitimate concerns have absolutely nothing to do with the character in this movie. It’s more like she’s trying to decide — on the spot, when a guy (Kutcher) she finds attractive asks her name — whether to dot the “i” with a heart or not. It’s like she’s never had to introducer herself to anyone new before. And maybe she hasn’t, because (as with Heigl’s character in *Knocked Up*) she doesn’t seem to know anyone other than her parents and passing acquaintances with a couple of annoying coworkers and neighbors.

    Smart writing could have made the name thing a clever commentary on conformity — maybe three or four of the annoying suburban neighbors could have been called Jennifer, too. But there’s nothing of the sort here.

    That said, if you read MaryAnn’s review for Failure to Launch, Jen, you’ll generally find that she is quite sympathetic to 30somethings having to live with their parents for economic reasons.

    Yeah, definitely. But in fact this movie is so far removed from any semblance of economic reality that it becomes another level of annoying and bizarre. Jen’s parents are absurdly wealthy without explanation (and becomes even more unlikely the more we learn about her family). And Spencer, when he give us hired-killing, three years later is running a successful architectural firm with no apparent experience or track record in such an industry, and he’s building houses in an economic downturn that has hit new-home construction particularly hard.

    I could write a book about all the many, many ways in which this movie is stupid and just plain wrong.

  • Lady Tenar

    Yeah, I don’t know why people here is saying that Mary Ann is a common name. I don’t know any Mary Anns and hardly anyone with a “Mary” dimunitive name anymore. (The couple that I do know are from Ireland.) I see it as one of those old-fashioned names that was once very common but hasn’t been since, like, the 19th century. Like my own name, Lydia. (Just realized, both Lydia and Mary Ann are in Jane Austen novels although a different spelling for the latter. I think I got the better novel but you definitely got the better character, MAJ.)

    I enjoy your scathing reviews of godawful “romantic comedies” almost as much as I hate actually watching them. Katherine Heigl confuses the hell out of me. She objected to “Knocked Up” because she felt it was sexist and then went on to make swill like this and ‘The Ugly Truth” (whose trailer alone made me want to punch a wall.)

  • Yeah, I don’t know why people here is saying that Mary Ann is a common name. I don’t know any Mary Anns and hardly anyone with a “Mary” dimunitive name anymore.

    Actually I’m the only one saying that and for the record, I have known a first cousin and a former co-worker who both go by that name. For that matter, I have an aunt named Mary, a first cousin named Mary Margaret and two female friends–one a former girl-friend, one just a friend–named Maria. So, ahem, I’m a bit biased about the whole Mary thing.

    Of course, both of the MaryAnns I’ve known were close to my age than MaryAnn’s so perhaps it’s a name that was more popular in the early-mid 1960s.

    I’ve read in a magazine recently that the name “Jennifer” didn’t really get popular in this country until the movie Love Story came out in 1970. (The female lead character’s name, of course, was Jennifer.) Which might explain why MaryAnn knows so many Jennifers in her age-group.

    I’d love to see the movie you talked about instead of Kutcher and Heigl’s Killers…

    Actually, Hegel’s Killers sounds like an excellent movie title but I doubt we’ll ever see a film like that. Except, perhaps, from David Lynch…

  • Chris

    I’m totally shocked that I haven’t seen a “LIGHTEN UP ITS JUST A COMEDY” post yet.

    I can’t stand either actor in this film. I won’t be seeing it, anyway, and now I have a much more concrete reason to avoid it like the plague.

  • MaryAnn

    I’ve read in a magazine recently that the name “Jennifer” didn’t really get popular in this country until the movie Love Story came out in 1970. (The female lead character’s name, of course, was Jennifer.) Which might explain why MaryAnn knows so many Jennifers in her age-group.

    It had to be happening before 1970. Because I was born in August 1969, which means I was among the youngest (if only by a few months) in my grades all through school, and there were still many many Jennifers. Who would have been named in late 1968 and early 1969.

  • well, he book Love Story came out before the movie by a year or two, which probably explains it. i remember the first time i noticed a name trend was for the girl’s name, Megan (and its many variations) after the book The Thorn Birds and then later the movie came out. my niece was named Meaghan a year or two before that and she was the only one in her class, but a few years later there were dozens of them. as for the name Jennifer, my niece had only 10 girls in her class, six were Jennifer. three were Jennifer Ann. now it’s all gonna be Bellas and Belles because of Twilight, i’m betting. too bad, because Isabel is one of my favorite girl’s name.

  • LaSargenta

    So what if she has a common name? I have a common name. I even have such a common last name that I once got called by one of my middle names for a whole school year to differentiate me from the other one! I don’t get this tangent about the damn name.

    We saw this stupid intro scene in the trailer: It seems like she’s totally unsure which persona to use with this guy who’s making her all dithery and tongue-tied. For me, this means she’s an insecure ditz. And not a fun ditz, not gracie allen, for instance. Or Bernadette Peters!

  • Why do you think so many Johns go by Johnny, Jon, Jonathan, or Jack? Think about how many guys you know who are just plan named after the Gospels. And women get to be named after pretty things like Snow, Star, or River, but go name a guy after something besides “Rock” and watch him get beat up after school. And then women raid our names, too, like Ashley, or River.

    I did a search on my full name, first, middle, and last, and found 14 matches, and my middle name is pretty rare. My cousin’s husband got half my brother’s gifts one Xmas because they have the same first name and we’d allowed their daughters to pass out the gifts (They were six and eight, so oh well).

    So now you know why men’s last names are put on the backs of their jerseys, so many adopt dumb nicknames, and so many kings and rich guys have numbers after their name. We’ve been putting up with this for centuries.

    Oh, right, this is about movies. Um, “Love Story” made me want to rip my eyeballs out and all I did was try to read the novel. God forbid the torture of being stuck in a theater.

    And I wonder what the withdrawl sympthoms for giving of a life of Bond would be like.

  • Mo

    I just want to throw my two cents in with the people who are saying I would really like to see that first movie described if it worked. That actually sounds fun.

    Exhibit 18,342 in the gallery of ‘Why Hollywood Producers Are Dumb’.

  • bats :[

    Completely off topic, but something that is giving me a warm, squishy feeling: “MacGruber” has been busted down to the dollar dive here in southern Arizona. Three weeks and yer out…

  • MacGruber

    Hollywood better start coming up with new ways to make money and fast! These days movies are just not doing it anymore. The Actors give weak performances in the Movies & its worse on TV! Unless its Animations or Sci-Fi like Avatar people just are not interested like they used to be. I say in 10years Hollywood will be a small shell of its self. Hurry up, do another Star Trek or Star Wars PLEASE.

  • Lady Tenar

    Why do you think so many Johns go by Johnny, Jon, Jonathan, or Jack? Think about how many guys you know who are just plan named after the Gospels.

    “Jonathan” has got nothing to do with the gospels. It’s a Hebrew name (and in the Hebrew bible) meaning “gift of God.” The “nathan” is the gift part so it’s related to that name. The fact that “Jon” is a popular shortening of it is purely coincidental.

    And I dont’ think River is a boy’s name. I think it’s a geographic feature that people started using as a name after River Phoenix’s hippie parents did. I’m pretty sure it’s totally modern so I think the girls ought to have an equal claim on it. Right about Ashley though.

    And if you want it to be okay to name boys cute, pretty things, try to make the world into a place where it’s acceptable to associate these qualities with boys as well as girls. :-P

    There, that’s my latest contribution to the name nitpicking.

  • MaryAnn

    It seems like she’s totally unsure which persona to use with this guy who’s making her all dithery and tongue-tied. For me, this means she’s an insecure ditz.

    Except she doesn’t even have *one* persona, never mind two or three that she chooses among based upon how she’s trying to present herself. The impact of that scene is more like she simply has never had to introducer herself to anyone ever before.

  • Maura

    More on Jennifers: if the trend really did take off before 1970, then it was very long-lived. When I entered college in 1991, there were no fewer than SIX Jennifers in my 68-woman dorm.

  • I was almost named Jennifer.

    I smell an alt history idea for someone’s fanfic…

    Perhaps a world in which a mysterious scarf-wearing time traveler hooks up with a spunky red-headed New York film critic named Jennifer Johanson and goes off to fight, say, evil aliens who don’t like Julia Roberts movies or something. Perhaps there can be a subplot in which the two travelers encounter a situation in which the future of the universe depends on the making of Pretty Woman. On second thought, that premise sounds more depressing than a S.M. Stirling novel so er, never mind…

  • Feh

    MaryAnn, do you have any insight into the ripoff pattern? Why do Hollywood movies tend to come out in pairs? Killers/Knight & Day, Abyss/Leviathan, Deep Impact/Armageddon.

    I found this link: http://alltopmovies.com/11-identical-movies-released-at-the-same-time/, but would like your opinion.

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