The Feministing Rom Com Review: Killers

Sometimes, people surprise you. In the case of Katherine Heigl’s character in Killers, people surprise you by revealing that they are are CIA-trained spies and killers. In the case of this reviewer, they surprise you by making a not-horrendous movie despite being named Katherine Heigl. Perhaps it’s because after Knocked Up, 27 Dresses and The Ugly Truth, my expectations of a movie starring Heigl were lowered so far that it would have been hard for Killers to truly disappoint. And it didn’t – not totally.

Heigl plays Jen, a software salesperson of some kind who has recently been dumped by her boyfriend and is vacationing in Nice with her parents. We learn in the first thirty seconds that she’s been dumped, and in the first two minutes we learn why: As her mother says, she’s too “safe” and “predictable” and “not spontaneous enough.” Jen, whose parents are played by the hilarious but underused Katherine O’Hara the still-mustachioed Tom Selleck, are polar opposites: He likes to play it safe, and she likes to play it fast, loose and drunk. Almost as soon as they arrive, Jen meets Spencer, a CIA agent who is in Nice on a job that conveniently involves lots of driving along cliff top roads in a red Ferrari convertible (subtle!) and swimming (shirtless!). They fall in love and he decides to quit his line of work which, he confesses to a sleeping Jen, he doesn’t really like. He doesn’t particularly enjoy killing people, and he wants to get out of the spy game and “put down some roots.” So he gets out, and they go home and get married.

Three years later, they’re living a dreamy suburban life, but Jen is worried that the relationship is going stale. Meanwhile, Spencer’s former boss has contacted him to bring him out of retirement. He resists, and then people start trying to kill him. All the people in his neighborhood. As it turns out, Jen’s dad is also a spy and, mad that Spencer tried to kill him in Nice, he planted sleepers in their neighborhood and has now put at $20 million bounty on Spencer’s head. Spencer is forced to reveal his true identity to Jen, who is predictably less than thrilled. Much shooting, exploding and car crashing ensues as Jen and Spencer spend the day running from the many trained assassins and money-hungry amateurs who live in their quiet suburban community (I know, it’s like the screenwriters read your journal!). In the end, all ends happily, with the two former spies reconciling their differences and Jen forgiving her husband and father for their secret identities. And of course, there is an adorable baby boy who, tragically, is born without a Selleck mustache.

Perhaps one of the most upsetting things about this movie is the rather graphic violence against women. It’s nice to see women get in on the action, literally: The majority of the assassins who come after Spencer and Jen are women. But it’s not nice to note that the assassins who are most brutally killed are women. When the women are killed – impaled on chandeliers made of antlers or shot point-blank – we see it in gory detail, and we see close-ups of their bleeding bodies. When the men are killed, there’s no such attention to detail.

As we’ve come to expect from a character played by Heigl, Jen is uptight, socially inept and hyper-organized. When she and Spencer first meet, she is holding a huge tub of Maalox. Apparently, showing her lifting vacuum-packed Ziploc bags of clothes out of her suitcase and wearing a button-down and pearls on a beach vacation wasn’t quite obvious enough; they had to script this so that Jen quite literally has something stuck up her ass. She’s horrified to be single, self-pitying in the extreme, and incapable of sticking up for herself. I’m not sure quite how we ended up with this particulary rom com portrayal of the modern woman – desperate for a man, desperate for order, desperate to be anyone but herself – but I do know that I hate it.

That said, Jen and Spencer’s relationship is generally a respectful and collaborative one. They both have careers, they both do housework and when Jen’s father expresses his concerns about Spencer’s inability to take care of Jen, Spencer says, “Jen’s not some fragile china doll… I depend on her, sir, it’s not the other way around.” Given this, it’s frustrating to see Jen occasionally relegated to the role of nagging wife or buzzkill. On several occasions, her horror at killing people and lack expertise with guns are portrayed as getting in Spencer’s way, and he gets frustrated with her. Apparently, it’s unreasonable for a woman to stop and ask questions when her husband says “I used to work for the CIA, please go into the living room and get the small cache of weapons I’ve hidden under the floorboards, as people appear to be trying to kill us.”

Of course, in action movies, that reaction is unreasonable. In action movies, women simply say “OK, let’s lock and load!” and turn out to be quite good with a gun, despite having no firearms training at all. And at its core, Killers isn’t really a romantic comedy. It’s an action movie with a relationship at the center, an escapist fantasy for people – men, specifically – who feel suffocated by their quiet suburban existences and their comfortable, happy marriages. And it’s not as sexist or as train-wrecky as we’ve come to expect from Katherine Heigl movies. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still sexist in that, as usual, Heigl plays a risk-averse, highly organized, socially awkward, single-and-hating-it woman whose voice enters canines-only upper registers when she’s upset. True, it doesn’t pass the Bechdel test, but it’s nowhere near as egregious as Heigl’s previous movies. So the real question is: Why was this movie marketed as a typically sexist Heigl rom com?

The trailers highlight the naggy, uptight, miserably-single Heigl moments instead of the ones where she’s helping her husband escape from assassins or kicking a little butt herself. They show the scenes where she’s struggling with her gun or freaking out about a car chase, just to emphasize the fact that while Kutcher is playing a suave former spy, Heigl is playing a silly woman. In reality, both Jen and Spencer have moments of suave and moments of silly. But as we know from recent rom com experience (I’m looking at you, hell-bound people responsible for The Bounty Hunter and The Proposal), sexism sells. It’s far easier to market a movie about a badass former spy and his uptight wife than a movie where husband and wife love each other, work together and blow some stuff up. Talk about safe, predictable and not spontaneous enough.

New York, NY

Chloe Angyal is a journalist and scholar of popular culture from Sydney, Australia. She joined the Feministing team in 2009. Her writing about politics and popular culture has been published in The Atlantic, The Guardian, New York magazine, Reuters, The LA Times and many other outlets in the US, Australia, UK, and France. She makes regular appearances on radio and television in the US and Australia. She has an AB in Sociology from Princeton University and a PhD in Arts and Media from the University of New South Wales. Her academic work focuses on Hollywood romantic comedies; her doctoral thesis was about how the genre depicts gender, sex, and power, and grew out of a series she wrote for Feministing, the Feministing Rom Com Review. Chloe is a Senior Facilitator at The OpEd Project and a Senior Advisor to The Harry Potter Alliance. You can read more of her writing at chloesangyal.com

Chloe Angyal is a journalist and scholar of popular culture from Sydney, Australia.

Read more about Chloe

Join the Conversation

  • genericjanedoe

    I don’t like Heigl…not even a little bit. But I did like Knocked Up, because I can forgive some transgressions if I’m laughing my ass off. (I’ve written about my soft spot for raunchy comedies in the community before, despite their anit-feminism.)
    I don’t offer the same forgiveness for action sequences, so I don’t see myself seeing this movie.

  • jilly-five

    I don’t always read the movie reviews on this site, but if all movie reviews are like this, then there really isn’t a need to go see the movie! The fact that Tom Selleck is a former CIA agent and hired “killers” to off Ashton’s character (albeit very predictable) isn’t revealed until the last 15 minutes or so of the movie. You completely ruined a major plot point for anyone that was interested in seeing the film! I saw it already, but if I didn’t and read this, I might be a little annoyed. Maybe next time you can put SPOILERS in the top paragraph?!

  • Babydazelala123

    I agree with most of what you said. I didnt really feel that the violence against women thing was really a big deal because they did show one of the assasins really beat up and shot… he was looking rough.
    One thing I liked was that the women in the movie werent all primped up and looking like women from music videos. There were real women in it all shapes and sizes that were assasins and neighbors, just like in real life. There was more shirtless Ashton Kutcher than there were women running around in skimpy bikinis. Ashton co produced the movie I believe and its great that he took that opportunity to make the ladies in the audience swoon over his..hairless muscly chest.. and not make them feel inadequate because their boyfriends are drooling over women in skimpy bikinis everywhere. It was nice for us to have some eye candy for us once ;)

  • smarmyalligator.wordpress.com

    Maybe I’m missing something, but when did it automatically become anti-feminist or sexist to portray women as risk-averse, highly organized, and socially awkward? I am all of these things, and I am still a feminist.

  • FYouMudFlaps

    Mr. and Mrs. Smith much?

  • VT Idealist

    Isn’t this kind of the plot to True Lies? Complete with the lady dropping the gun and taking out a room full of bad guys (or at least that’s what the preview lead me to believe).
    “It’s far easier to market a movie about a badass former spy and his uptight wife than a movie where husband and wife love each other, work together and blow some stuff up.”
    Mr. and Mrs. Smith was sort of like that. Of course, in that case they were both super suave former spies and spent a good part of the movie trying to blow each other up.

  • Darkmoon

    The thing that jumps out at me the most in the movie poster is the way she’s dressed in “feminine” attire and holding the gun as if it’s some icky snake that’s going to bite her.
    I’d like, just ONCE, to see a straight male portrayed that way. When there is a hetro couple involved, the woman is always either scared of guns or she’s working with her badass husband or she’s a resentful ex. When they want one of the characters to be “squeamish” about guns, aggression or whatnot, it’s almost always the female.
    They obviously don’t understand our gender very well.