In another era, “Killers”--available this week on DVD--might have been called a screwball comedy. In those classics of the 1930s, the stuff of romantic comedy was ensconced in an unlikely plot. The principals often had to overcome obstacles other than the usual: parental objections, hating each other initially, social station disparities, etc. Indeed, they sometimes faced mortal danger, however farfetched. In this PG-13-rated updating of the genre, the dialogue is a mite racier, the suggestiveness a little more explicit, the weaponry a little heavier. But it’s still recognizably screwball and, after a little stalling at the start, it gains some good comic momentum.
Many of the classics relied on a strong female lead: think Katherine Hepburn, Myrna Loy, or Carole Lombard. Here, Katherine Heigl demonstrates some sound comic chops, and she’s easily the most attractive part of the movie, in various ways. Most obviously, she’s a knockout. This raises some credibility problems early on, when we’re asked to believe that her admittedly nerdy boyfriend has dumped her. Uh-huh.
Her character, Jen Kornfeldt, is on vacation in Nice, France, with her parents, played by Tom Selleck and Catherine O’Hara (perhaps best-known as the mom in the “Home Alone” series). These two are, respectively, an over-protective ex-pilot and gun nut, and a lush, whose constant tippling her husband completely ignores. This latter failing may explain why they hardly seem to notice when Jen meets and goes gaga over Spencer (Ashton Kutcher), a cute, buff, self-styled “corporate consultant” who tells Jen he specializes in downsizing.
Thing is, we’ve already seen--thanks to a Bond-parody opening--that he’s not like George Clooney’s character in “Up in the Air”; rather, he’s a CIA agent whose specialty is killing bad guys. Of course, he doesn’t tell her, and, of course, they fall in love and quickly marry, Spencer claiming that all he wants to do is put down roots and get to know his neighbors.
Cut to three years later, and his neighbors seem bent on killing him although he thinks to have resigned from The Company. Not only that, but his buddies at work, even the delivery guy, come at him with knives, machine guns, and martial arts moves, breaking up his home, his office, his car, and, potentially, his marriage. (The movie may set a record for Most Broken Glass in a Comedy, but it follows a pretty familiar plot arc). Their motive and the outcome are somewhat lame, but it’s not like we’re asking for realism in this context.
Director Robert Luketic does a creditable job shooting the requisite chase, fight, and shooting scenes, keeping his tongue slightly in his cheek. The writers try hard to craft a witty script to overcome Kutcher’s considerable shortcomings as an actor, sorta like a younger Keanu Reeves. (Kutcher’s listed as a co-producer, which might explain his presence in the lead.) Heigl, in contrast, emerges as a strong comedienne, dominating her exchanges with Kutcher and everyone else on the screen. By the end, she’s calling the shots both as a character and an actor.
“Killers” spins its wheels for the first third or so, but once the shooting starts it picks up steam. There are some wonderfully funny moments, mostly involving the young marrieds arguing, in the middle of the mayhem, about the standard topics of their set: work, in-laws, getting pregnant, and so forth. Like its obvious predecessor, “True Lies,“ it’s better than the run of the mill summer fare.