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Friday, Nov. 26, 2010

'The Killers (Kiss & Kill)'

Kutcher and Heigl kill us softly with their rom-com

Mark Bittman of the New York Times once wrote that real cooks don't need big kitchens or the latest culinary gadgetry — cooks just cook, in pretty much any circumstances, and they are mostly fueled by the will to produce something delectable.

The Killers (Kiss & Kill) Rating: (2.5 out of 5)
Star Star Star Star Star
Cyanide sweethearts: Ashton Kutcher and Katherine Heigl flirt with death in "The Killers." © 2010 LIONS GATE FILMS INC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

Director: Robert Luketic
Running time: 93 minutes
Language: English
Opens Dec. 3, 2010
[See Japan Times movie listing]

The same could be said for rom-coms. The genre doesn't really need big-name stars or elaborate trappings and a budget that could feed Ethiopia for six months. A resolve to make the audience smile, treat them like adults and romance them a little is all that's needed.

But these days, the stories and performances are likely to get bogged down in a humungous kitchen equipped with too many self-cleaning ovens and electronic cappuccino makers. You can see that it all cost a fortune, but "delectable" is just not happening. In spite of the smoke, noise and brouhaha, our plates remain empty. For joy and sensory satiation, we may as well go to the Food Network.

Which brings us to "The Killers," released in Japan as "Kiss & Kill." Pairing buffed-up studster Ashton Kutcher with sweetie-pie Katherine Heigl — who has gamely starred in enough bad rom-coms ("27 Dresses," "The Ugly Truth") to get inducted into the Good Sport Hall of Fame — this is a movie that gets the ingredients right and everything else wrong.

The premise is achingly familiar: A happily married woman discovers that her dreamboat hubbie is a former CIA agent who left his job to marry her. That career decision has made some bad guy — either in the CIA or elsewhere — very cross, and he's sicked some assassins on their trail. After sitting through this you may want to turn to "Charade" to see how Carey Grant and Audrey Hepburn did this sort of thing with a truckload more finesse and elegance in the 1960s.

But then in those days, Hollywood had Grant and Hepburn and didn't have Twitter. In the course of researching "The Killers," this writer was shocked — shocked! — to discover that Ashton Kutcher has over 5 million followers, to whom he replies with polite enthusiasm. His views on the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, for instance, sparked a long, hot debate and he answered the tweets personally, with sincerity and a minimum of "IMHO"s.

Could it be that the tweeting habit is what's holding up the Hollywood machinery? It's a thought to pause on, especially since there's not much to ponder in the actual movie. We could just be approaching the day when the cast's Twitter updates are more interesting than the vehicles in which they're acting, and the theaters become full of people tracking iPhone screens instead of paying attention to the actual moving pictures in front of them.

Speaking of which, one of the reasons why "The Killers" seems less than compelling is the alarmingly short attention span of the central couple. Kutcher's character, Spencer, alternates between total distraction and autopilot, like a guy who's so used to multitasking that only 20 percent of him is wherever he's supposed to be, the rest of his consciousness farmed out to various other Internet-related errands. Heigl's Jen is freakily frustrated (but who can blame her?), shrill and scatty, regurgitating what other blonde babes trapped in action situations have done in the past year — which mainly consists of screaming "OMG!" every couple of minutes. Like Cameron Diaz in "Knight and Day." Or Jennifer Aniston in "The Bounty Hunter." It's been a trying year for quality chick-flick lovers.

Still, there are nuggets of brightness that enliven proceedings, like meat-free dishes placed strategically on a Thanksgiving table to let vegetarians know they're loved. "The Killers" is expansive, inserting an unexpected chuckle here or throwing a briefly plot-altering curveball there. Jen's parents (played with relish by Tom Selleck and Catherine O'Hara) provide most of these moments and, as a couple, they're much more watchable than the Jen-Spencer duo. The mom is a confirmed bon vivant and dedicated lush; her husband, in balance, has taken it upon himself to dispense with all fun in order to discipline his wife. When Jen's mom discovers that her daughter is being stalked by a mysterious marauding killer, does she panic? Nope, she turns the occasion into an excuse for a drink — the stiffer the better — and a whiff of "Charade" and others like it stir the screen like a refreshing breeze, calming everyone down a bit. Except, of course, Spencer, who's forever fidgeting and antsy and attention-depleted. Probably suffering from temporary smart-phone withdrawal, the poor, poor lad.

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