Robert Luketic´s Killers, which stars Ashton Kutcher as a super-spy and Katharine Heigl as a frumpy computer technician, is so far removed from the real world that seems to operate in its own reality. It´s a bad movie, that´s for sure, but one that approaches “so bad it´s good”; it can be entertaining in the right frame of mind. I was just happy it wasn´t the same old formula on autopilot.
The setup already feels out there, not helped by some peculiar casting/characterizations: first, we´re introduced to Jen Kornfeldt (Heigl), who´s recovering from a bad breakup and travelling to France with her parents (Tom Selleck and Catharine O´Hara). Heigl, a beautiful and winning actress, is unsuccessfully trying to play nerdy and socially awkward in these early scenes. Next we meet Spencer Aimes, a charming CIA agent who Kutcher plays as James Bond-by-Tom Cruise; we aren´t buying it from the outset, and it doesn´t help that Kutcher (and the film) show a total lack of conviction in the role.
OK, the setup stretches credibility, but we can accept that. So what´s up next? The two fall in love, she finds out he´s a secret agent man, and their love is tested as they´re targeted by ? Nah: flash-forward three years, past any romance, and ex-spy Spencer and Jen are happily married and living in a mini-mansion down the street from her parents in suburban Georgia. Then – wham! – as Spencer is ‘discovered´ and a price is put on his head, it turns out all of the couples´ friends and colleagues and neighbors from the past three years were actually bounty hunters (or ‘killers´ as the film so eloquently puts it), and are now attempting to kill them.
Uh-huh. We´ve already accepted a thin premise, and now we´re expected to believe that not one or two but 10 or so of Spencer and Jen´s friends have been living fake lives for the past three years, waiting for Spencer to become greenlit so they can kill him and collect a bounty on his head. I think it was a million dollars; regardless, these people all seem quite successful in their fake lives and it´s a bounty that wouldn´t even pay for the luxurious houses they´re living in.
Then there´s the denouement, which just sinks the whole thing: it´s simultaneously predictable and nonsensical, in the sense that we thought this is how things might turn out, but then thought no, that doesn´t make any sense. Well, that´s how it turns out, and no, it certainly doesn´t make any sense; one of the characters tries to explain things further, but then he´s cut off and the film ends with a big WTF hanging in the air.
Killers is part of a new breed of buddy-action-romantic-comedy, which takes the old 80s buddy cop picture (48 hrs., Stakeout, Lethal Weapon) and injects a healthy dose of formula rom-com. Previously this year, we´ve seen Gerard Butler and Jennifer Aniston in The Bounty Hunter and Steve Carrell and Tina Fey in Date Night; up next there´s Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz in Knight and Day. These movies spread themselves over a number of popular genres in an attempt to appeal to as wide an audience as possible, but end up spreading themselves too thin and satisfying no one.
Killers, for a change, favors utter nonsense over formula, which I took some perverse pleasure from. And it favors action over romance and comedy, which results in one pretty decent action sequence – a car chase that´s directed with a little more verve than one might expect – but otherwise throws more confusion on just who this movie is intended for. Audiences going in expecting rom-com will be looking at this thing sideways as the dead bodies start piling up in gruesome fashion.
Two high points: Rob Riggle, who gets some of the only laughs here as Spencer´s friend, and Tom Selleck´s mustache, which looks about as good you might remember.
I´m torn whether to recommend Michael J. Bassett´s Solomon Kane; on one hand, it´s a good-enough sword-and-sorcery tale, brutal and moody and atmospheric, leagues ahead of those campy 80s epics that killed off the genre: the Deathstalkers and Beastmasters and the rest of them. On the other hand, the climax is an almost unforgiveable mess of substandard CGI that just about sinks the film.
Eh, call it home field advantage (the movie was filmed in and around Prague); I can give Solomon Kane a pass. Overlook the flaws – which, if you´re a genre fan, are really confined to the CGI and the lame ending – and you´ll have a blast here.
Kane is based on the long-popular character created by Robert E. Howard, the pulp writer who also created Conan the Barbarian before committing suicide at age 30. He´s a fascinating character: a 17th-Century Puritan who wanders the lands fighting evil; in the movie, he´s a once-vicious and evil warrior who attempts to renounce violence in order to save his soul.
When we first meet Kane (let´s ignore the obviously digital establishing shots that open the film and pop up throughout), he and his men are invading a castle in search of treasure and murdering all those in their path. He gets more than he bargained for, however, when he come face-to-face and sword-to-sword with the Devil´s Reaper, who has come to collect his soul (for reasons, uh, less than fully explained). It´s a dynamite opening, operating at a larger scale than the film´s budget would indicate, and sets the tone for the rest of the film.
Later, Kane (effectively played by James Purefoy with a Hugh Jackman-like swagger) has renounced his evil ways but is kicked out of the monastery that has served as his sanctuary (because, uh, one of the monks had a ‘vision´). He begins a journey back to his home land, which he left as a child (in flashbacks, Max von Sydow plays his father), refusing to even defend himself against a gang of robbers. On his way, he encounters the benevolent Crowthorn family, headed by patriarch William (Pete Postlewaite), who offers to aid him in his journey.
But the lands are ravaged by evil, and soon Solomon finds himself drawn back into a world of violence, which he uses – for good, this time – to save his soul. For the main plot thread in the film, the logistics of soul-taking and soul-saving are pretty thinly sketched; we seem to be going by hearsay most of the time, with the Reaper claiming Kane made a deal with the devil and lost his soul, and William saying he can do something else to save it. But at this point I´m looking too deep: it´s clear who is good and who is evil here, now let´s get down to the action.
In this regard, Solomon Kane doesn´t disappoint. Fights are brutal and bloody, and shot and edited in a manner that actually lends itself to visual comprehension. Imagine that, we can understand what´s happening. It´s also appropriately creepy, with memorable characters like the Reaper and the mask-wearing Overlord, and one standout sequence involving a demented priest (MacKenzie Crook) and his brethren of cannibalistic post-humans.
But that ending, in which Kane squares off against a hulking mess of digital goo (the rest of the film, apart from the establishing shots, had avoided the overuse of CGI); it´s a real deal-breaker. It´s over with relatively quick, but I mourn what could have been.