Killers

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It’s a bad sign when the things you learn about a movie are more interesting than the things in the movie. But did you know that Ashton Kutcher and Katherine Heigl are the same age?? They were both born in 1978! This is interesting because Kutcher has a perpetually youthful, immature, carefree persona, while Heigl always seems so responsible, grown-up, and mature. I’d have guessed she was several years older than Kutcher. But no! She’s actually nine months younger!

Fascinating!

Their widely different styles and personalities are just one of several dozen reasons that “Killers” doesn’t work. Kutcher plays a smooth professional assassin (nope, not buyin’ it); Heigl plays a neurotic, stodgy woman who becomes a blithering bimbo when she encounters a handsome man (also not buyin’ it). Spencer and Jen, as they are named, meet while she’s vacationing in France after a break-up. They fall in love very quickly and are married.

Suddenly it’s three years later. (All of this has happened in the first 15 minutes.) Spencer gave up the hitman business to have an ordinary life with Jen and has never told her of his previous employment. She’s about to find out, though, because Spencer’s former boss (Martin Mull) contacts him, desiring a meeting. Soon bullets are flying: Someone has ordered a hit on Spencer the retired hitman!

Here is another fascinating thing I learned about this movie. When it was first announced in Variety, in September 2007, it was called “Five Killers,” it was written by Bob DeRosa, and it was described as an action-thriller, not an action-comedy. Also, the director was going to be Mark Helfrich, whose debut “Good Luck Chuck” was just about to come out.

About a year later, Variety reported that Ashton Kutcher was playing the lead, that Ted Griffin (“Ocean’s Eleven”) had been hired to rewrite the script, that it was still called “Five Killers,” but that Robert Luketic (“Legally Blonde,” “The Ugly Truth”) would direct it. And now it was described as an action-comedy.

Four months later, in its story on Heigl joining the project, Variety was back to calling the film a thriller.

Not having read Bob DeRosa’s original screenplay, I can’t say if it ever was an action-thriller, or if Variety just got it wrong the first and third times the movie was mentioned. I wouldn’t be surprised if the movie did completely change genres, though, because the finished product bears all the signs of a project that’s been re-written, re-edited, and manhandled to within an inch of its life.

Secondary characters show up without introduction, talking as if we already know who they are and what their deal is. In one scene, Jen is walking around the house clad only in a bra and slip, with no explanation. (Not that you need an excuse to show Katherine Heigl in her underwear, I guess.) I suspect there are deleted scenes that would have made all of this more sensible.

But are there any deleted scenes that would have made it funny? That, I doubt. Once Jen learns of Spencer’s past and the two of them go into run-for-your-lives mode, Jen becomes a flustered screwball type — a brand of comedy for which Heigl is simply not suited. In the midst of all this, she learns she’s pregnant, and goes through all the stereotypical things pregnant women do, in the space of about five minutes. For a while it seems like she and Spencer have forgotten that they are fleeing from people who want to kill them.

Jen’s parents are played by Tom Selleck and Catherine O’Hara, both of whom are a welcome sight in just about anything. The joke about Dad is that he’s a humorless worrier who’s always been suspicious of Spencer. The joke about Mom is that she drinks a lot. That is literally the only thing we’re told about her. Every time she appears, she’s guzzling from a cartoonishly large martini glass, or pouring more vodka into the Bloody Mary mix. A few secondary characters are likewise defined only by their drinking, their horniness, or both. These are the easiest possible jokes, employed only when you can’t be bothered to think of any other way to define a character. (“Hey, I know! Let’s say she drinks a lot! That’s gold!”)

The film’s one good idea is that Spencer doesn’t know who, exactly, wants him dead, or who’s been hired to do the deed. The assassin could be any of his friends or neighbors, embedded in his life all this time, just waiting for the order to come down that it’s time to kill him. Having a bunch of potential assassins come out of the woodwork sounds fun, but it doesn’t make any sense. Why hire spies to infiltrate Spencer’s life and wait patiently, rather than just kill him up front? Or if there’s some reason to let him live in quiet suburbia for three years, why employ a dozen trained killers to keep an eye on him? Why not just wait until the time comes, then hire a killer? And how does a highly competent spy like Spencer not detect that most of the people in his life are also spies?

When it’s revealed who put the hit out on Spencer, and why, and how, everything makes even less sense. This thing is a mess — as a comedy, as a thriller, as an action vehicle, as a movie.

D+ (1 hr., 37 min.; PG-13, moderate profanity, one F-word, mild sexuality, a lot of action violence mostly played for laughs.)

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