Director: Robert Luketic
Writers: Bob DeRosa and Ted Griffin, based on a story by DeRosa
After 2004’s The Butterfly Effect, I swore off Ashton Kutcher movies. Now, of all the terrible actors in all the movies in all the world, there are many worse than Kutcher. Rob Schneider, for instance. I’ve successfully avoided Schneider’s films for three years, or eight if you discount the many bizarre cameo appearances he makes in Adam Sandler comedies. Why did I swear off Kutcher, then? He’s certainly more talented than Schneider, exuding at least a slight hint of prettyboy charm. It’s because there is no reality in which I can conceive of Kutcher doing something interesting. He just doesn’t have it in him. He’s not interesting to watch, he never has anything interesting to say, and his status as the second most-followed person on Twitter–trailing, of all people, Britney Spears–is merely indicative of the fact that even hip social media sites fall prey to old prom king-type popularity contests.
The entirety of Kutcher’s new film, Killers, which I saw only because it was a rare trip to the drive-in with family (support your local drive-in, people!), drips with that contemptuous sense of normality. It’s fine that the protagonists, Kutcher and Katherine Heigl, strive for a happy marriage. More people should. What’s dispiriting is that they work so hard to achieve nothing more than society’s vision of what is right and what is proper. They’ve got a big, picturesque house. They live in the idyllic, upscale suburbs. Heigl works as some sort of businesswoman, a job which invites her to wear a pretty scarf while doing nothing meaningful (her job is so marginal that the movie never even specifices what exactly she does). She goes to lunch with her girlfriends, who seem as if formed by committee; a miniature Sex and the City. There is woeful talk of Heigl having to wear her fat jeans. It’s all joyless and icky.
Now, I suppose that what happens next is supposed to subvert all that. The plot is simple: Heigl, after having been dumped by her geek boyfriend–cue high-school level geek ridicule –goes to Nice with her parents, a stern businessman (Tom Selleck) and an insatiable alcoholic (Catherine O’Hara). She immediately falls into the arms of the hunky Kutcher, who happens to be a CIA agent with a license to kill. After falling for Heigl, he retires, and they live in peace until three years later he finds he has a bounty on his head and suddenly all their neighbors are trying to kill him. I admit to liking the concept, which I think could’ve been a fun, fizzy movie in the right hands, perhaps those of Doug Liman, who embarked on vaguely similar territory in 2005’s Mr. & Mrs. Smith. And in a smarter movie, the neighbors’ uprising would’ve been employed as a witty satire of suburban “normality.”
Killers is not a smart movie. That everyone’s out to kill Kutcher is a background detail here, a few quick scenes of violence bursting out of the doldrums every once in a while. For the rest of the movie, Kutcher and Heigl just, like, walk around and stuff. They’re on the run, but they don’t treat it like a real emergency, nor do they approach it with any kind of logical regard towards their own safety. They drive a little bit, they go to the supermarket, they stop at Kutcher’s place of work. They basically attach themselves to a blinking neon sign which reads, “HEY, WE ARE INSUFFERABLE ASSHOLES, PLEASE MURDER US.”
If this sort of thing had been made back in the day, I could see Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn in the lead roles. The film obviously would’ve been much smarter and funnier. Most importantly, the stars would’ve had no small measure of chemistry. As it is, there are no sparks between Heigl or Kutcher. Their meet cute in an elevator, where a ditzy Heigl nearly faints at the sight of a shirtless Kutcher, is about as exciting as things get. How I long for a heroine as sharp and as strong-willed as Hepburn! Much has been made of the fact that after Heigl complained of rampant sexism in Knocked Up, she has made nothing but a string of movies which demean and diminish women. I have never thought Knocked Up was sexist. Yes, ladies in Apatow films are more often uptight than funny, which I’ll admit is a problem. But Knocked Up treated all of its characters as three-dimensional human beings. When, in Killers, you see Heigl standing stock still in the middle of chaos whilst screaming like a 1950’s housewife who’s just seen a mouse, or holding a gun like a prissy prude, there’s nothing to do but sigh.
Though the stars are dead weight and the script feels as if it’s been assembled by a bunch of jargon-spewing, data-crunching Hollywood robots–or a marketing department!–the supporting cast goes towards considerable lengths to spruce things up. It’s good fun to see comedy stalwarts Rob Riggle and Alex Borstein as trained assassins armed with knives and guns; the scene where Riggle is revealed as a killer is one of the few moments where the film comes to life, and the action is staged better than I would’ve expected. It takes a lot to make Catherine O’Hara unfunny, and playing a compulsive drinker is like shooting fish in a barrel for her. She nails it. Martin Mull shows up in a completely straight role as Kutcher’s CIA boss but I still laughed because he’s Martin Mull. When Martin Mull simply appearing can make me laugh, and yet the leads can’t make me crack a smile through 93 minutes of forced gags, your movie is broken.
This has been my six-year check-up on the state of Ashton Kutcher’s career. In that time, he has not done a single movie I have wanted to see. The closest he came was 2006’s Bobby, but even then the reviews turned me away. Killers does not break his streak, it keeps it going strong. Maybe in six years, I’ll see him in something else. Maybe he’ll be cast in a Joss Whedon film, which by the terms of the contract I signed selling my soul to Dark Lord Whedon, I would have to watch. But if Ashton Kutcher were ever cast in a Joss Whedon film, I would know that the end times were upon us, so I probably wouldn’t have too much time for movies.