The most interesting thing about Ashton Kutcher onscreen is that he's Ashton Kutcher. And it's really not even all that interesting. However little attention you might pay to celebrity news, you're probably aware that Kutcher is married to actress Demi Moore, 16 years his senior, and stepfather to Moore's three daughters by ex-husband Bruce Willis. So there you go: The most interesting thing about Ashton Kutcher is Demi Moore.
I recently read, with a sort of low-grade interest (and in the New Yorker, thank you, not Us or In Touch), that earlier this year Kutcher took part in a U.S. State Department technological delegation to Russia, where he lambasted the teenage Russian founder of a wild-and-woolly chat site for some of the unregulated content his stepdaughters had encountered in their otherwise chaste wanderings through wholesome cyberspace. More recently, Kutcher became the first Twitter user to garner more than a million followers, narrowly beating out CNN. Now there's a hell of a statement on what people find interesting and worth paying attention to.
Some two dozen movies into his career, Kutcher is still best known for the TV role of Michael Kelso on the 1998–2006 Fox series "That '70s Show." Here again, another mildly intriguing footnote: The "Michael Kelso" entry on Wikipedia is much longer and many times more interesting than the entry for Ashton Kutcher. It paints a marvelous psychological portrait of the amicable dumbbell, carefully delineating the subtleties (including the same spurts of sensitivity and left-field erudition that occasionally escape from Homer Simpson) of an oddly complex character in a show with a comic sensibility that's barely a cut above "Three's Company."
On the face of it anyway. Most of the cast of "That '70s Show" seems to be in on some kind of joke—the smirking Topher Grace most conspicuously. Also Kurtwood Smith, otherwise best known as the Loch Ness Father from Dead Poets' Society and badass gangster Clarence J. Boddicker in RoboCop. Grace and company do away with things that sitcoms could never have gotten away with in the actual '70s, like the round-robin weed-cam that starts rolling only after the implied smoking has been completed off-camera. Kelso, for his part, just looks happy to be hanging out, part of the gang. If memory serves, certain characters arrive to enthusiastic TV audience applause in each episode and Kelso is one of them; you almost hear clapping when Kutcher makes his first appearance in his movies.
Killers, his most recent feature, opens on the French Riviera and Kutcher first appears speaking French and doing spy stuff. His French is not bad, or at any rate it's mumbled enough to somehow sound authentic. That's sort of interesting. But whether he's sticking explosives to helicopters or romancing innocent hot-American-tourist-on-the-rebound Katherine Heigl, Kutcher shows zero affect, zero acting, zero investment in the movie. The viewer might fondly recall the superb Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, set in the same realm of twinkling opulence, but he is soon disabused of the notion that Killers will be anywhere near as well-crafted, funny, entertaining, or just plain good.
And it isn't. Just nowhere near at all. Killers is full of scenes that Max Fisher from Rushmore would be proud to have written: packed with clichés and deliriously unaware of it, but not in a good or funny way here. It's as though the film lexicon of writers Bob DeRosa and Ted Griffin and director Rob Luketic consisted solely of low-rent hit-man movie tropes.
It might have been more entertaining to unpack a few of them, have a little fun, send them up a little. But oh, no: In the scene where Ashton's professional dude-whacker tries to resign from the "blank blank blank," as he calls it, the agency which recruited him right out of college, there isn't the faintest whiff of ironic self-awareness when his aging mentor says "You can't just walk away, Spence," and Spence replies, "Watch me."
It would be one thing if Killers played the actual work of Kushton's killer for laughs. For a while you just don't know which way the movie's going to go: after Kutcher, the first actors we see are Catherine O'Hara, Heigl, and Tom Selleck sitting in a row, clearly mother, daughter, father. Such obvious stunt casting doesn't bode well, for starters because nowadays any movie with O'Hara in it is bound to be a little silly. You can probably think of 20 other comedies that either have her giving essentially the same performance, or have another actress playing the exact same character. Look, the rich mommy is drinking again! She loves to drink! Ha ha ha! That's so funny and original! What a lush!
Then the guns come out. Kushton snaps a gunman's neck in a reverse bear hug and dives over the side of a yacht with the seconds-dead corpse still wrapped in his arms. As Kutcher disengages and swims off and the dead man drifts downward, so too sinks any last little bit of optimism that Kutcher, the writers, director Luketic and Killers itself have any sense of what they want the movie to be. It's a ludicrous muddle, and as much Kutcher's fault as anybody's.
For as instantly forgettable as this movie was, I'm still haunted by one detail: the banality of the dead man's footwear. That's about how deep I got into Killers.
Killers continues at the Wilma Theatre.