I paid my own damn money to see this film at midnight at the Winnetka Pacific tonight.  Lionsgate did not make the film available for review.  And I'm not surprised.

I don't think it has to do with the quality of the film so much as the premise.  The trailer manages to give away the whole movie without telling you how the story is told.  It's got a good idea and some terrible structure, a screenplay that is sort of frustrating because it gets close to getting the concept right.  As it is, there is a core piece of the premise that they haven't used in the advertising at all, and i wonder if part of the "hide the movie" strategy was keeping that quiet.  I mean, it's not like this is a terrible, terrible, terrible movie... is it?

No.  That's extreme.  This is not a terrible, terrible, terrible movie.

One terrible will probably get the job done.

But it took the effort of a lot of people to make a film that doesn't work as much as this movie doesn't work.  Let's really break it down so we know who to thank.  First and foremost, let's talk about Katherine Heigl.   I think "Knocked Up" is a really good movie.  I think Heigl is pretty good in it, but in saying that, and in thinking about her work in the movie, I'd say mainly the movie is really good around her, and she's fine.  She is the plot of the film in "Knocked Up," and everyone else gets to play a fun character.

Then someone told her she was funny.  And she keeps making comedies now where she's supposed to do the heavy lifting.  Which she can't do.  Ouch.

Ashton Kutcher is the main character, and she's the plot.  She is the thing that happens to him.  It's told through his POV, primarily, and it's an interesting example of a miscalculation based on star power.  See, Kutcher produced this film.  And it is a star vehicle for him.  The entire opening of the film is him starring in his own James Bond demo reel.  And, if I'm not mistaken, Ashton Kutcher is such a rebel that he has "pirated" the first 13 minutes of the film and put it online for you... RIGHT... NOW...

... but you have to fast-forward through the first 11 minutes of red carpet blah blah to see it.

See... who needs movie critics?  You fine folks can look at that first 13 minutes and tell if you want to see it or not, right?  Bold strategy, Lionsgate, because I guarantee you could have gotten some puff piece passes on this movie, some people willing to go out on a limb for the director or the producers.  Robert Luketic certainly has his fans.  I'm not sure I get it.  He's fine.  He's capable of shooting a movie. The one film of his that I think holds up to repeat viewings is "Win A Date With Tad Hamilton," which is actually a pretty sturdy sweet little comedy.  This movie is a certain kind of slick, and it's for an audience that doesn't really watch spy movies, so it's not as important that the action work... except you sort of get the sense that Luketic really wanted to make an action movie.

The first 25 minutes of the film are all backstory to the actual story of the film, and because it has to lay down a half-hour of shoe leather to get to the place where the film should start, once it does kick in to the main story, they rush the most interesting stuff in the film.  Spencer (Ashton Kutcher) finally decides at the end of that first 25 minutes that he's in love with Heigl and wants to marry her and settle down and live a suburban life.  He's been warned by his handler that he can't walk away from his job as a government killer, but he doesn't care.  He starts a real business (doing "design") and lives that life he wanted for three years.  And we get a title card to tell us that.  "Three years later."  You could deal with everything before that title card in dialogue or story points, and you didn't need to go to Nice and shoot that, and you'd have way more time to explore the idea that everyone in Spencer's "normal" life is a sleeper assassin, and that he sets off some trigger that suddenly drops a $20 million pricetag on his head.

That's not a bad idea.  And it's not really "Mr. and Mrs. Smith," which is what the trailers make this look like.  Even that 13 minute clip makes it look like that.  Instead, the premise here lends itself to a surreal sort of violent romp where all of his friends and neighbors and employees are all suddenly a potential threat, and he has no idea who has been simply marking itme, getting close, ready to kill.  The film opts instead to play the broad comedy between Heigl and Kutcher, and everything here is about their relationship.  Because of that, they should have made Heigl the main character and really told the film from her POV.  The truth is women like her.  That's what keeps her working... she has some quality that women seem to really respond to, and as a result, they'll go see a film where Heigl plays the sympathetic lead.  She gets to do some of that here, but it easily could have been her movie if told a different way.

The reason for all the bloodshed is so slight that I can't remember it just a few hours later.  It's over some misunderstanding about a flash drive?  Is that right?

There's a whoooole bunch of second unit here, a lot of fight and stunt stuff that is fine, all staged well enough and shot so you can see it, but nothing inspired, nothing that gets your attention.  Both Heigl and Kutcher are shot as cheesecake, and both of them feel like they're trying really hard but wearing dress-up clothes that belong to someone else.  Kutcher just doesn't have the weight to play a professional killer who has an international reputation.  The supporting cast like Rob Riggle and Catherine O'Hara and Tom Selleck all try very hard to make the film come alive, and they all appear to be game for it, but none of them can really pull it off.  There's a bit of pleasure in trying to guess who is going to turn out to be a sleeper killer, but the film can't even really play that right.  The film looks professional, but it's a noisy drag, and I think more than anything, it tested my patience for Katherine Heigl doing shtick.  I think that's the thing that really derails it all for me.  Script problems aside, structural issues aside, I just find her whole "trying too hard" thing feels like she's... well... trying too hard.  And that's no fun to sit through at all.

This was an expensive film for Lionsgate, and it's not a pick-up... they produced it.  This was them sending a message, letting people know they could make a big movie.  They spent a lot of money on this.  And if it proves anything, it proves that Lionsgate can make a big stupid noisy "comedy" that is almost entirely laugh-free, just like the big studios.

Bravo.

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