Director : Robert Luketic
Screenplay : Bob DeRosa and T.M. Griffin
MPAA Rating : PG-13
Year of Release : 2010
Stars : Ashton Kutcher (Spencer), Katherine Heigl (Jen), Tom Selleck (Mr. Kornfeldt), Catherine O’Hara (Mrs. Kornfeldt), Katheryn Winnick (Vivian), Kevin Sussman (Mac Bailey), Lisa Ann Walter (Olivia Brooks), Casey Wilson (Kristen), Rob Riggle (Henry), Martin Mull (Holbrook), Alex Borstein (Lily Baily), Usher Raymond (Kevin the Manager), Letoya Luckett (Amanda), Michael Daniel Cassady (Milo), Larry Joe Campbell (Pete Denham), Mary Birdsong (Jackie Vallero), Ric Reitz (Dougie Vollero)
Like Mr. & Mrs. Smith (2005), Doug Liman’s action-comedy of über-violent marital discord that is now remembered as the film that jump-started Brangelina, Killers attempts to satirize the banality of domesticity via a story about secret assassins. Ashton Kutcher and Katherine Heigl star as Spencer and Jen, he a professional killer working for the government and she a cutely neurotic single gal recently dumped by a geek boyfriend and now on vacation with her well-meaning, but overprotective patents (Tom Selleck, uptight and humorless, and Catherine O’Hara, perpetually sloshed). By now, Heigl has a lock on roles in which she plays tense, controlling women in need of some lightening up (see, for example, 2007’s Knocked Up and 2009’s The Ugly Truth), and she’s doing something very similar here, except with a slightly softer edge; she tinges her neuroses with a sense of vulnerability, which makes all the difference in the world.
Ken and Spencer meet cute on the French Riviera, where he is on an assignment to blow up a helicopter and kill someone (Who? Who cares?). She thinks he’s just a too-good-to-be-true hunk, and he is drawn to her ordinariness; he wants to get out of the killing-for-hire business and settle down, and Jen seems like the perfect person with whom to do it. Thus, we fast-forward three years to find them married and happily settled into domestic suburban bliss, at least as far as Hollywood understands such terms. In terms of conspicuous consumptions, Killers rivals any of Nancy Meyers’s films, as Jen and Spencer live in a “middle-class” neighborhood whose block parties look more like Coney Island in its heyday, complete with a Ferris wheel. Nevertheless, the point we’re supposed to take home is that they are “normal,” which is precisely what gets upended when Spencer’s old boss (Martin Mull) gives him an unexpected call and suddenly assassins are coming out of the woodwork trying to knock him off, which puts a real dent in his hard-earned domestic bliss.
Theoretically speaking, Killers is grounded in a funny premise, and for the first third director Robert Luketic (Legally Blonde, 21) does a nice job of drawing us into the story without making it either too dull or too ridiculous. He’s clearly having fun in the opening moments aping James Bond movies and hip late-’60s crime thrillers, but once the story moves into suburbia and starts turning everything upside down in a hail of bullets, it all starts to fall apart. Part of this is due to the repetitiveness of the movie’s central gag, which is that any one of Spencer and Jen’s friends, neighbors, and/or coworkers might be a “sleeper” assassin planted into their life and ready to be called into action. Thus, we are hammered with a series of action set-pieces that dominate the film’s second half, every single one of which hinges on someone introduced earlier in the movie turning out to be a killer. It’s surprising the first time, but after that it starts to wear more and more thin until the big climax in which major revelations feel simply tired (it doesn’t help that Luketic is not a very good action director).
The other problem is the casting of Ashton Kutcher, who also coproduced the movie. Kutcher’s character is intended to be a world-weary professional who wants to get out of the business, but he never once convinces that he is a trained killer, much less one who has been at it for so long that he has become disillusioned and weary. The role needed to be filled with someone who could bring age and gravitas that could then be twisted for comedy, but Kutcher’s lack of presence and weight makes the role seem like a canard from the very first scene. In the right roles, Kutcher can be an extremely effective comedic presence, but here he feels wrong; at all times you can feel him “playing” the character, like an extended game of dress-up or cowboys-and-Indians, which saps the movie’s best moments of any real energy. He and Heigl develop a decent sense of chemistry, but it’s never quite enough to lift the movie above any sense of its being little more than a potentially good idea badly executed.
Copyright ©2010 James Kendrick
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