[15 September 2010]
When watching the trailer or TV spots for Killers it’s hard not to notice its similarities to Mr. and Mrs. Smith. Sure, Katherine Heigl’s character isn’t a spy, but all the other markings are there. Exotic locale? Check. Bickering couple? Check. Lots of gunplay? Check.
I don’t think anyone would make the leap comparing Ashton Kutcher to Brad Pitt and Heigl to Angelina Jolie and therein lies the main problem with what could have been a fun little knock-off: everything about Killers is second choice.
Obviously, the actors aren’t A-listers. Heigl may be an up-and-comer, but she’s certainly not as appealing (in any form) as the Oscar-nominated Jolie. Though she complains about her characters’ flaws more than any actress I know of, she continues to take the roles that require a lot of girlish screams and constant nagging. The streak continues with Killers.
We first meet Jen starting her vacation with parents Mr. and Mrs. Kornfeldt (the dream pairing of Tom Selleck and Catherine O’Hara), and she couldn’t be more upset. Her nerdy boyfriend just dumped her and now she has to take a trip with Ma and Pa. Oh, she’s going to France. Nice, France, presumably for free. I can only imagine what sort of life she’s lead thus far to be complaining about such a vacation.
Now, I don’t want to cast an unfairly harsh light on what is simply meant to be an in-one-ear-and-out-the-other action comedy, but it’s this sort of lazy introduction that keeps Killers from fully accomplishing this lowly goal. I understand the need to give the protagonist some problems, just not these. Jen is made even more negatively stereotypical because her parents are so clearly awesome.
O’Hara’s first line has her ordering three drinks for herself while Selleck plays it comically straight by refusing his drink because of a need to stay “alert and focused” on a plane ride. Why wouldn’t Jen embrace her good luck and enjoy the time with her funny folks?
Our introduction to Kutcher’s Spencer is equally sloppy, but less repugnant. We immediately learn of his profession as a professional killer, a fact that would have been much more amusing if hidden for the first 20 minutes or so. What’s his problem? Well, since his life requires him to fly solo and keep secrets he obviously must crave domesticity. While asking the 32-year-old hard-partying Kutcher to portray the desired comforts of a 40-50 year old is an issue easy enough to ignore, the clichéd caricature he inhabits is tougher to swallow. He’s just a spy who wants a permanent home. Based on the way he meets and inexplicably falls for Jen, he’s so desperate for normalcy he’ll settle down with any ordinary Jane who’s willing.
The meet-cute scene is so cluttered with awkward moments it’s amazing the date even ended, let alone leads to dates 2-200. Jen, again embarrassed to be seen with her parents, tells Spencer her dad is a Russian pervert who got too grabby on the plane just so the couple can avoid him for the night. Spencer, who is at first quite charming, soon loses his debonair attitude and begins rambling like a buffoon about Jen’s dress, boobs, and body. After being accosted by a random local on the dance floor, Jen proceeds to get so drunk she passes out right before Spencer tells her he’s a paid assassin. Still, Spencer remains enamored with Jen, a concept only accounted for by her good looks.
If director Robert Luketic would have explored the idea of an awkward spy and his even more awkward date, perhaps the first third of Killers would have worked. After all, not every spy can be as enthralling as James Bond. An expert hired gun who can disassemble and reassemble his sidearm blindfolded but can’t say “Hi” to a woman without shooting himself in the leg would have been an originally engaging idea even if it didn’t take over the movie. Instead, the couple’s klutziness is played for straight laughs and only a handful are earned.
Another overlooked opportunity comes in Spencer’s repeated moral quandaries. After he meets Jen for the first time, the young man offs his last target and decides he wants out of the game. Before exiting Spencer asks his coordinator if he knows why each mark was targeted in the first place, but his boss explains away his worries by reassuring him they must be bad guys if the American government wants them dead. This doesn’t sit well with our hero and his distrust becomes a theme of Killers.
The final twist brings it to the forefront when Spencer’s blind trust (forced or otherwise) comes back to bite him. Or does it? Luketic never addresses any of the question marks his character brings up, instead choosing to leave us concernedly clueless. Perhaps he didn’t have the time among all the “clever” quips and “boisterous” bickering.
Nevertheless, the film jumps forward in time from the couple’s meeting to the pre-engagement period to three years into their marriage when Spencer’s past finally catches up with him. It was refreshing to see time move without definitive markings seemingly for only the dumbest members of the audience, but the shifts exclude the parents far too much. What’s worse is the almost complete exclusion of Mr. and Mrs. Kornfeldt from the film’s final half. Luketic must have thought we wouldn’t miss them with so much action going on, but their mature presence would have helped anchor the immaturity of our leads even with bullets flying overhead.
Despite the above-mentioned flaws and missed opportunities, Killers is never as bad as it should be. Kutcher and Heigl don’t reach the unadulterated entertainment level Pitt and Jolie captured in 2005, but each of them has their moments (Heigl less than Kutcher).
As Heigl comments in the 11-minute making-of documentary found on the DVD, neither of the actors are hard on the eyes, thus covering the most demanding aspect of each role. Their good looks may not be enough to warrant watching the picture (or the brief gag reel and rudimentary deleted scenes included on the disc), but couple them with O’Hara’s humor and Selleck’s charm and Killers could have been much less lively.
Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/130825-killers/