Released on June 1 by Lionsgate, the Katherine Heigl/Ashton Kutcher vehicle Killers (2010) follows a model of movie-making popularized by flicks like True Lies, Mr. and Mrs. Smith, and The Whole Nine Yards. Like these other films, Killers spices Sam Mendes-style bourgeois realism with some cloak-and-dagger, shoot-em-up flair. And while the latter does just fine on its own — via Hong Kong cinema and the endless parade of Sam Spade clones — the former is quite intolerable without something to neutralize its treacly seventh-grade metaphors.
Wherever and with whomever this seemingly incongruous genre amalgamation originated, it’s a fairly effective means of rendering tales of suburbia, certainly one that’s preferable to The Ice Storm and Revolutionary Road. Middle-class American culture is extraordinarily narcissistic and never tires of seeing representations of itself and reaffirmations of its lifestyle and values. This desire, coupled with rabid consumer instincts, drive the American bourgeois toward Mendes films and Killers-like films indiscriminately.
But one wonders if they get the irony of this.
No matter that they offer little more than a keen eye for the obvious regarding the basic dualism of man — namely, that we wear masks outside our picket fences and feel free to act like fully-formed, flawed human beings inside them — films like American Beauty take themselves rather seriously and deliver what their audience expects: the soporific strum und drang of Main Street, USA. Films like Killers deliver essentially the same message — that nothing is as it seems in the tract homes of middle America — but take themselves much less seriously and subvert the expectations of their primary audience.
While, like the heroes of Mendes’ films, home-bound middle class Americans do jerk off, do drugs, and sleep around, few if any suburbanites outside Langley, VA can relate to gun-toting spy craft. And the fictitious, represented glamor of such occupations — vis-Ã -vis your cubicle at Dunder Mifflin — can’t help but make wistful wage-slaves curse their MBAs and wonder, “Why didn’t I join The Company instead of the company?!”
Doubling down on the irony, most CIA and other “intelligence” personnel live lives identical to bankers, lawyers, and middle managers. The sort of spy game peddled by films like Killers only exists on screen and in the pages of Tom Clancy novels. People who aspire to this particular lifestyle, then, aspire to a void which, nevertheless, is certainly better than chasing down deals at Target, living in a house you can’t afford with people you hate, and rotting away while working for someone else’s golden parachute.