Ashton Kutcher, Katherine Heigl, Tom Selleck, Catherine O’Hara and Martin Mull, with Alex Borstein, Casey Wilson, Rob Riggle, Kevin Sussman and Kathryn Winnick.
Jen and Spencer are having troubles getting over their past relationships. Both just want to settle down and get their priorities straight. One would call it reassessment of their wants and needs.
Well, these two trying to turn over new leaves found each other in France, both ready for a change. Jen’s a computer programmer who just wants to get over, focus on her career, find some nice guy to maybe raise a family with. Spence seems like the nice guy, and agrees with Jen’s frame of mind.
That is not to say that Spencer isn’t tired of the demands of his government job. He wishes to give it all up in favor of a sense or normalcy, light years away from his trade as an assassin for hire.
I wanna talk about black comedy this time out, and I’m not talking the Wayans Brothers here. I also wanna talk about rom-coms (again) this time out, and I’m not talking the Hallmark Channel here. I dislike most rom-coms, and it’s not just cause I’m a guy. I like romantic comedies so long they have some substance, namely a solid story, good characterization and precious little sparkly goo-goo eyes. Often next of kin to black comedies.
To begin, anyone out there know what the sub-genre “black comedy” is? It’s also commonly known as “dark comedy.” It’s a the kind of movie that finds humor in the bleakest, sometimes macabre, most ironic and often violent tendencies we humans apparently gravitate towards. It’s akin to watching the car wreck on the highway and being damned glad you weren’t in it. Schadenfreude, taking delight in others’ misery. To be deep consider Jung’s theory of the “death instinct.” Morbid curiosity about what the end might reveal. We’re all gonna go someday, so stir up a Cuisinart clogged with sh*t and let ‘er rip. That’s what dark comedy is about. Shout at the devil, screaming, “Is that all you got?” Because let’s face it, sometimes comedy and tragedy can go hand in hand. It’s the foundation of reality TV if you consider it. Do you really root for these idiots to succeed week after week? Be honest with yourself. Refer to your local, classic Greek playwright for clarification if confused.
Dark comedy is laughing at the Grim Reaper as catharsis. Bad sh*t happens every minute in our drab lives. Consider the evening news. Is it ever really informative or positive? Not from what little I’ve ever watched. Sure, there’s always a cute, little human interest story tag at the end of the evening’s installment, but the previous 22 minutes was hi-def wreck and ruin, and maybe the viewer being relieved not being wrapped up in another global train wreck. “Glad we weren’t in that reactor meltdown, but check out that footage of those liquified bodies that are gross, twitching, and ready extras for a Romero movie. Wow!” Yeah, it’s wrong, but it’s human nature and that’s what makes it amusing. Habeus corpus, this conundrum. Dark comedy, rife with murder, violence, perversion and the stuff that may have clotted in your mind like a poorly treated infection. Ick.
When done right, dark comedy can be a revelation. Scary things can be funny, and nervous chuckles are always welcome. Like with classic comedy and tragedy, an uplifting scene followed by a dire one (think Hamlet. It’s probably why it’s the Bard’s most famous work) to make some visceral impact. Follow something comic with something dark to achieve a metaphysical hit to the gut. Some pinnacles of this sub-genre you may have already seen and perhaps not quick to take them at face value, however there may have been a lingering odor of unease. Like a cut on your finger when not treated gives in to sepsis. Infamous titles like Dr Strangelove, Arsenic And Old Lace, MASH, Fargo and Young Adult are prime examples of the skewed view of how what may be cringy to one can be funny once we flip the script.
I find dark comedies an outlet. You think you’ve had a bad day? Check out The War Of The Roses. Directors who pull off decent dark comedies can be imps of the perverse and their output can be such a fine tonic to the stressors of the day. Say sure, Woody Allen, Ivan Reitman, John Landis, Charlie Chaplin and even Judd Apatow have made solid, funny stuff, devoid of pretense. You watch Annie Hall, Ghostbusters, Animal House, The Gold Rush and The 40 Year Old Virgin for yuk-yuks straight and forward. You might have also seen Interiors, Cannibal Girls, An American Werewolf In London and The Great Dictator which are far more subversive and perverted, but no less amusing. Apatow’s turn might have been Funny People, but only for the cringeworthy factor. Both sides of these directors know what funny is based against whatever ghoulish concoction they put out as a thumbing of the nose to just mess with audience expectations. This paradox results in a low level cognitive dissonance that makes you laugh at uncomfortable things. Like laughing during a eulogy or trying to talk your way out of a DUI speed trap. Sarry, occifer.
Comedy legend George Carlin illustrated what funny is perfectly: Everything we share but never talk about is funny. That being said the topic doesn’t matter, not really. We all can get behind the bumbling Dr Jekyll, for we are him sometimes. Hapless and muddling our way through the world. Dark comedy is the Mr Hyde, squirming and laughing against what makes us squirm like wanting to kill our boss or to sweep the leg of that senior citizen taking their grand old time weaving back and forth up the supermarket aisles Awful, right? But what if I…?. A fine example of this imp is our favorite spectral child-killer Freddy Kruger. He was truly scary, but also had an honest revenge agendum and some truly—dare I say—killer one-liners. He was terrifying and funny, so joyous skulking around in his boiler room and your subconscious. No surprise how the Elm Street franchise has endured. Can’t help but relish that car accident. Freddy’s yer boyfriend now. Funny sh*t. You could die laughing.
Please allow me that. Please?
The other side of the cinematic coin is the romantic comedy, often more querulous than any nagging Maguffin in Hitch’s arsenal. If you think about it romance can be scary, too. Regarding the object of your affection that is. As long as we’ve been able to breathe we’ve always been kindly against the opposite sex. Be it male, female or another trying to scrye what those dang butterflies are doing to your stomach. Those fears of rejection, self-doubt about your looks and your presence and a holy host of crap beyond your control because you must allow your love object to take your extended, open palm. Just like with Jung’s theories, you may get wounded, but you still try anyway. Coming back for more. Over and over. Masochistic. And that, my children, is why Only Fans is in such a tumult right now. A great many of us need to see the wrecks, literally and metaphorically.
Rom-coms mostly tease us. We’d all like to believe in Princess Bride true love, but that’s just wishful thinking. Feeling in love is indeed a scary feeling. If you are fortunate the love of your life accepts your hand and a romantic relationship begins it doesn’t necessarily mean the race is won. Even more imps may darken the day. Commitment issues, jealousy of another, failure to communicate, all such woes that taint any and all relationships. I speak from experience that whenever these issues rear their ugly faces I need to go to the bathroom. And they always do appear. At the back of your committed-to-the-other’s mind there’s always a lurking fear of when this crap happens again will that be the last time? Ask any divorcee for advice. Such going unease is scary, and often takes the legs out from under you. Hence why dark comedy exists. Yin and yang. Life goes on.
Consider it. Doesn’t the above seem scary, yet tantalizing? What? Were you never in middle school? Don’t puff out your chest. You’re lying. Accept that, as well as accept the fact that when romance goes sour—at least on screen—it’s cringy funny. Been there, don’t wanna go back there, will return there again. It’s a shared thing we never talk about yet is universal. Catch and release. Confidence and deferment. Swingers. That weird query that gnaws your mind to bits whether your crush is worth it. Worth what? A buffet of butterflies maybe? Such questions have informed the late John Hughes’ filmography. Being young and in dope love is never easy. Less so once married. And that’s when love truly becomes an algebraic problem…but with some luck mutually willing to solve. This is the ideal, mind you. You get it.
Hence the Hallmark side of things, so long as you don’t think too hard accompanied by a bowlful of micro’d popcorn. Maybe some Kleenex also.
The final flip side. Rom-coms are nothing but we wished would happen. The aforementioned Hallmark Channel is always happy to oblige a mismatched, forlorn, torn grocery bag romance that happens every New York minute. It’d be nice if that were true in real life, but it never is. And thank goodness, because it’s an ideal and they are seldom satisfying. Even stating that is cliché. That’s also kinda scary in the abstract.
Romance and humor is just as a tasty release and is horror and humor. Pleasure and pain walk along the same razor’s edge. That is why Trent Reznor’s ouevre still appeals. Time to get graphic and put false propriety to bed. Hold my hand once more, and don’t tell your father we made out.
The best rom-coms dispense with the usual schmaltz. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Kiss and make up. Boring. One must drip a little urine into the maple sweet saccharine to make a good rom-com come to life. Namely be both comedic and romantic in even doses, and not only please one side of the metaphysical waffle. Most rom-coms are either too romantic or too comedic because—again the Hallmark Channel’s stock in trade—the push and pull of drama is absent. If you consider it, most scary movies are at their core dramas. Using suspense to draw you in is nothing new in making movies. It worked for Casablanca as it did for Alien. Tight cast, solid story, and great pacing knows no genre. The gut feeling of “what happens next” is vital to all horror, comedy, romance and drama films. Right, like for all movies, but the key element is balance. Tip to far left or right and you end up feeling cheated. Not unlike every evil Eli Roth horrorfest I’ve even been subjected to. Man, grow up already. Your middle school bullies are all accountants now.
Not everything in rom-com romps is all puppy dogs, ice cream and young divorcees returning home to New England. No. Again boring with a capital B. That crap is all PG-13 bodice ripper. Style over substance, as well as cheaper to film. In case you haven’t noticed, America is lousy with single, capable white women that the Wayans can not wait to parody. Discussing this schism, funny marrying scary, dark comedy is the razor. Long argument short, in order for one to appreciate the relief of a dark comedy one must be awaiting it. I’ve had a sh*t life. I need a laugh and vengeance. Hey, is that my old beater DVD of Evil Dead 2? Press play. Maul me again. Let me laugh and squirm in equal doses so I can face the next day. I’ll rewatch Pretty Woman again come Friday with some hot slices of (Mystic) pizza.
Okay. Don’t allow me that.
Anyway, is the above cynical? Correct. That’s the crux. Now please, enjoy the car wreck and quit being ashamed for being curious. We’re all only human.
In the endgame how does dark comedy shake hands with romantic comedies? When done right look for subversion. Flipping the script, remember? Twist expectations just enough to get a foothold in the curious audiences’ mind and attention. Those dark comedies I mentioned above trick you into thinking you’re going to watch a straight ahead drama, comedy and/or character study. For example, when I first watched Arsenic And Old Lace I did not understand what Cary Grant was freaking out about when he opened up the cubbyhole. Then I did, and the film took on a darker bent despite still being grimly funny. Grant had great comic timing, and you know what they say about timing with comedy. It’s when the director of the beloved holiday classic It’s A Wonderful Life spins a tale about a pair of old spinsters euthanatizing lonely old men as a public service.
Script flipped. Gotcha. Like romance squeezes your guts into jelly—think James Garner in the gooey adaptation of Nicholas Sparks’ The Notebook (yes, I saw it. Not bad)—all widdershins. Also when you found out what Mrs Vorhees was all bent up about. One and the same; give in to your vulnerability for a possible great trade. You dig?
No? I guess you’ve either watched too many of one over too little of the other. Or are just in denial of getting stood up at Prom, opting to hang with your low-life buddies instead, spiking the punchbowl with lighter fluid. Such shenanigans are rather devious but also downright funny, considering what inebriation may lead to on with the dancing couples.
Right, binge watching Hallmark with a Rachel McAdams TV movie marathon. Now that is scary!
Breaking up is hard on you. When a relationship ends sometimes all you really need is a change of pace, a change of space. And what better change of place than the south of France?
Jen (Heigl) and her mom and dad (O’Hara and Selleck, respectively) are all gonna get away from it all. Too bad that Jen’s ‘rents won’t lay off on her crappy, failed marriage. We’re on vacation! Let’s get away from all it all, right!
Jen finds Nice nice. Chill place, pristine beaches, servers with flutes of the local brut at the beck and call. She’s totally off on her ownsome, in her happy place, until she meets Spencer (Kutcher) en route to the hotel pool. He says he also has a lot to get away from, especially the drudgery of his government job. It’s taking its toll on him and also wants a change. No shock. Jen can relate. They strike up a conversation and way leads onto way, which leads to a nice dinner, a nice club date and some nice skinny dipping.
…Three years later…
Jen and Spence are happily married. Spencer is out of his old job, and Jen can concentrate on her career. All is bliss, until it isn’t. Turns out Spencer offered out lies of omission Jen’s way. His old government gig? A hired assassin for the CIA, disposing of America’s enemies with extremely extreme prejudice. One mark at a time.
Spencer’s old boss Holbrook (Mull) comes calling, warning that Spence’s unfinished business is about to catch up with him. And he ain’t talking about be overextended on some mortgage. There’s a price on Spencer’s head. No one ever truly gets out.
And all Jen wanted was her own office.
I think I was poorly prepared to watch Killers. K loves this movie, however her movie tastes aim towards the Disney/Pixar angle. Apropos of nothing, her TV habits vacillate amongst 7th Heaven, Bones, Gilmore Girls, NCIS, Supernatural, the many DC Comics TV adaptations (especially Supergirl) and the myriad CSI series. In sum, I never know what she’s into at any given week.
So a dark comedy? She still has the ability to surprise. She made me an ardent fan of 7th Heaven, so all is possible. Don’t scoff; it’s enjoyable to watch an 11 season comedy-drama about a minister’s dysfunctional family. Good characterization, which is vital for such a program. Now please quit judging me and let’s keep going.
K had the right view with Killers. She recommended it for RIORI and it met the Standard. I found the flick refreshingly funny. And it was funny, but I think she got lost on the satirical angle. She’s my kind of cute, so I allowed it. To be honest, I found it a bit disturbing how much she giggled when the gunplay was center stage, and I always leave the toilet seat down. However it was a cute send up of modern rom-coms. Cute was the key word. KIllers‘ plot was nothing new, and has admittedly been done before better with more panache (read: Cameron’s True Lies, Liman’s take on Mr & Mrs Smith and Zidi’s La Totale!, which inspired True Lies BTW). To the point we’ve seen Killers before, but if you consider the MPAA’s rating of the movie PG-13, that was only there to sell tickets, as it always is. Killers should have been “honored” as the first, official PG dark comedy, so light and fluffy it was. Bring your kids. And blindfolds.
At first I thought Killers was going to be some James Bond spoof. Nope. It was a rom-com spoof. A very deviant one at that. From what I had whined about regarding rom-coms and their all too predictable plot devices are indeed front and center, but were twisted in such a way that you figured out the inevitable before the first act finished and were eventually rewarded for it, albeit subverted. Nice work, You already knew where the story was headed and dispense with such rigamarole ASAP. That sh*t’s not vital to anything related to the gonzo plot. The setup was short and sweet within the first fifteen minutes. Director Luketic didn’t waste our time, hopefully out of respect. Worked for me.
Regarding Killers’ tone I was at first unsure about chemistry. From what I’ve seen about our two leads Heigl is best known as a difficult yet has an awesome head of hair and Kutcher being a goof as an affront to his male model good looks. Heck, even I could plant one on him. But Killers was all about subverting expectations. Heigl wasn’t bitchy. Kutcher wasn’t aloof. Both were maladroit incarnate. A prime way to earn sympathy; we are all thumbs most of the time. Clever use of that; endearing. In fact that may have been the underlying tone of the plot. A perverted take on wedding vows. If so, it was properly ridiculous.
With that “saw this coming” precept in place I guessed that the whirlwind romance thing was unavoidable. A sop to the regulars who stone into rom-coms. Killers might have been designed to annoy such fans. The trick with rom-coms is that they strictly adhere to familiar tropes. It’s like comfort food in a way; nice people finding each other despite some odds with the principals all having high cheekbones and no pores. Any deviation from this formula is almost anathema in this genre. What’s wrong with stirring the soup some? I mean, really all those tepid rom-coms on Hallmark all have the same plot. It’s akin to being an ardent HGTV viewer; every show is the same show. I know because I have shared time watching my mother’s favorite show, Love It Or List It. It’s the same ep over and over again. Well-heeled couple either wants to find a better house or renovate their current abode with an obscene budget at their disposal. My mom’s a Realtor, so the show must be some soft-core porn to her. I get it, but I don’t. It’s like other straightforward/disposable infotainment all lukewarm mac and cheese dappled with ketchup. Harmless, predictable and in poor taste.
That being said, some ubversion might spice things up. Killers did yeoman’s work at upsetting the balance. Disrupting the foreseeable. Sure, there were the nods to typical rom-con tropes (EG: Jen expecting by accident, Mom and Dad’s meddling, lies of omission to save the relationship, etc), but it was all eyewash until the fit hit the shan. This was made evident in the final act, when the bullets were ricocheting off bullets and dead shots aplenty. Any cutesy schtick was avoided at all costs, natch. Such pap would just soften the madcap action. Truth be told, when Spence finally began to open fire the flick truly got funny. That and Jen went along for the ride, literally and figuratively. Talk about for better or for worse. The worst was best.
Hold. On second thought, Killers wasn’t outright funny. It was witty, but at times confusing. It sometimes felt as if the director was attempting to shoehorn too much banter making light of Jen and Spence’s plight. To paraphrase Pacino in Godfather III, “Just when I thought I was out, I get pulled back in.” To the formula, skewered once too often. The setup allowed some breathing room, but sometimes also lent a lull in the pacing. The second act was a blur of Three’s Company-esque miscommunication and sitcom hijinks paired against frenetic gunplay. It was all so rapid fire—so to speak—it came across all lazy. I was all down with the story until it began to bottom feed. Thank hell Luketic attempted to channel his notorious debut, Legally Blonde. Yes, that infamous fluke. Cutesy, sweet daffiness and satire then worked surprising wonders. I supposed his stuttering direction here allowed us to catch up on what the hell we were watching, but it made the implied urgency sag. The witty banter between buoyed the dark humor. Frankly, I was awaiting more senseless violence with an abundance of winking. Endgame: pandering to the small masses. I’d’ve rather watched Kutcher whack soccer moms instead. A lot.
In a curious way, Killers had an air of “Apatow light.” The flick was nowhere near as deadpan, but had a similar cadence. It’s like what I griped about a bit ago; Apatow’s comedies are rapid fire doggerel, jokes that are gone once before you catch them and always low key and dismissal. Not so much here. Killers is deliberate, perhaps another paean to how rom-coms attempt to hamstring your heartstrings. Things fall into and apart here with sharp precision. Once you accept the dirty deeds—which are more or less eyewash come the third act—you’re wrapped up the the anti-schmaltz. Yes, it often felt draining, but at the core love and death are welcome partners. Get that? That kind of nervous tension makes dark comedies work. Namely, you can’t believe what you’re watching—and maybe even enjoying—such nonsense. Face facts, we all want to snicker during the eulogy. I barked out laughs often with some precision, shame attached gladly. This may be the way I have been so forgiving of Killers‘ flaws; funny is funny. Right?
Killers scratched an itch. It alternated between between goofy and espionage (almost in the same breath). It had pretty cool, gonzo fight scenes. It had the atypical family drama feel set on its ear. It had a lushy Catherine O’Hara role. Killers was a kind that I would allude to being the first proper dark comedy for the family. It was overall ridiculous, but in a fun, gleeful way. A fine mess and a decent waste of time. Other movies like Killers did a better job of skewering the rom-com formula with much more elan, but to its credit Killers was the dark rom-com variety equivalent of a Bic Mac and large fries. Namely, this is not necessarily a good thing, but…
*nom nom nom*
Rent it or relent it? Rent it. To the quick: f*ck the Hallmark Channel.
The Stray Observations…
- “I’d kill for a normal life.”
- I always wanted to know what Heigl felt like. I mean, felt like. K: *smack*
- “Excellent mustache…Gorgeous.”
- Aimes. Clever.
- “Please, call me sir.”
- Is that a spatula?
- “I’m going to feed you.” Selleck had the best one-liners.
- That’s a knife!
- “Let’s go steal a car.”
- Maalox. It’s not just for dinner anymore.
- “if I was going to kill you I would have shot you back at the house.” Ah, marital bliss.
- Can’t say Spence doesn’t come unprepared.
- “Ooo, I’m Swedish!”
- K: Piggy!
- Wait. Kmart?
- “Is anyone not trying to kill me?
The Next Time…
There is a property dispute regarding The House Of Sand And Fog. It’s not about who owns the land, per se. It’s about who has the right to live there.