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.

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