(by Dustin Putman
A lot of fuss has been made over the fact that Lionsgate, notorious for not screening in advance their endless "Saw" sequels and Tyler Perry output for press, has chosen to go the same route with "Killers." The difference? This is a major summer tentpole release starring A-list movie stars, not a blood-drenched slasher movie or a brand-stamped effort with a focused demographic and instantaneous built-in audience. Lionsgate's reasoning behind this decision is as flimsy as a see-through nightie. They claim that in this socially and technologically conscious world, they want all viewers to experience the film simultaneously before sending out their thoughts in the medium of their choosing. Is anyone buying this hooey? If Lionsgate had a finished product they were genuinely proud of, wouldn't they want positive word-of-mouth to begin with the press in anticipation of its release? Is the studio rightfully ashamed of what they have unleashed unto the public? Article continues below
As it turns out, there is no rhyme or reason behind Lionsgate's cageyness, save for their lack of respect for critics. "Killers" is better—less generic and with a clearly stronger vision—than Katherine Heigl's last two tedious romantic comedies (2008's "27 Dresses" and 2009's "The Ugly Truth") and Ashton Kutcher's previous double-dip into the same respective pool (2008's "What Happens in Vegas" and 2010's "Valentine's Day"). All of those pictures were bad-to-mediocre, yet they were shown to press. "Killers," meanwhile, dares to be a little more dangerous and different, darting from black comedy to action to romance with a smooth hand. It's far-fetched, to be sure, but also madcap and surprising in a lot of ways. The ending is never really in doubt, but the getting-there has more up its sleeve (in a good way) than meets the eye.
Recently dumped Jen Kornfeldt (Katherine Heigl) is vacationing on the shores of idyllic Nice, France with her pilot father (Tom Selleck) and boozy mother (Catherine O'Hara) when she meets-cute and falls for the handsome, charming, well-sculpted Spencer (Ashton Kutcher). Their courtship is a fast one, but it's enough to make Spencer—really a professional killer and spy—decide to hang up his gun for good, the line between the good and bad guys becoming too blurry to sit well with him anymore. Three years later, Jen and Spencer are living the dream, happily married with respectable jobs and a lovely house in the suburbs. It all proves too wonderful to be true. When Spencer's past comes back to haunt him and a $20-million bounty on his head is uncovered, he has no choice but to come clean with Jen. Soon the two of them are on the run from assassins, and, if that weren't enough, Jen has reason to suspect she may also be pregnant.
Directed by Robert Luketic (2005's "Monster-in-Law") and scripted by T.M. Griffin (2005's "Rumor Has It...") and Bob DeRosa, "Killers" is more amusing than consistently laugh-out-loud funny, but makes up for it in rousing action set-pieces of all types (car chases, glass-crashing fight scenes, shootouts, you name it) and nice chemistry between the two leads. The initial falling-in-love sequences set in France, beatifically photographed by Russell Carpenter (2008's "21"), sparkle, both due to the pleasing pairing of Ashton Kutcher and Katherine Heigl and also because of the natural emotion that comes with being wise enough to place Snow Patrol on your soundtrack.
It would have been easy for Spencer to seem less than likable, but he is depicted as a nice guy who stumbled into the wrong profession. He comes clean to Jen almost immediately—granted, she is passed out at the time, but he doesn't realize that before the words come out of his mouth—and then makes amends by turning things around and taking the steps necessary to earn an upstanding living. That his killer roots finally return is not his fault; with people coming out of the woodwork to murder him, he has no choice but to protect the lives of himself and his wife. As for Jen, her reactions to learning the truth about Spencer seem about right for her character, a smart but also loopy young woman who is horrified at the violence and life-threatening situations that surround her before discovering, somewhat to her delight, an edge she never thought she had. As these two defend themselves at all cost, navigate their current relationship hurdles, and come-to-terms with the idea of becoming parents, the film has fun exposing the dark, cutthroat side of its many falsely cheerful supporting characters who come after them.
The side players, from Kevin Sussman (2009's "Taking Woodstock") and Alex Borstein (2007's "The Lookout") as neighbors Mac and Lily Baily, to Casey Wilson (2009's "Julie & Julia") and Rob Riggle (2010's "Furry Vengeance") as Jen's and Spencer's friends and co-workers Kristen and Henry, to Tom Selleck (1999's "The Love Letter") and a typecast Catherine O'Hara (2009's "Away We Go") as Jen's parents, are a memorable group, but there is never any doubt that Katherine Heigl and Ashton Kutcher are the main attractions. Kutcher has a heart-on-his-sleeve affability that is difficult to resist in romantic roles like this. For her part as Jen, Heigl reminds of Lucille Ball, loose and zany, but always with a dramatic truth behind what she does. Together, they make an appealing team that the viewer wants to follow.
From a narrative standpoint, "Killers" has little time to bring much sense or realism into the equation. Throughout Spencer's and Jen's hectic day and night on the run, cars are stolen, crashed, and exploded, property is destroyed, and people meet nasty ends, but not a single police officer seems to respond to any of it. Sure, their survival is what is most important in the here and now, but director Robert Luketic fails to explain how they are going to finagle their way out of trouble once danger subsides. "Killers" never pretends to be a documentary, however, and it is successful at exactly what it is: inconsequential but entertaining summer escapism with, it should be noted, far more involving, technically proficient action scenes than the rest of this summer's so far lackluster crop of bigger-budgeted would-be blockbusters (i.e., "Iron Man 2," "Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time"). As a romantic comedy, it's second to only "Date Night" in a year that hasn't had much luck with that particular genre. Is "Killers" primed to set the world ablaze with its innovation? Not a chance. But there's also nothing so bad about it that would warrant tarnishing its reputation through the lack of advanced press screenings. Thus, with expectations understandably lowered, those who take a chance on "Killers"—and welcome a dose of quirkiness to go along with their conventions—should be relatively pleased by what they see.