NEM // 2010 // 92 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // November 4th, 2010
"This is wrong!"
Alex (Heather Graham, Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me) has always been a "fixer." She gets into relationships with men who clearly aren't up to her standards, hoping to "fix" them and make them better. She feels her current relationship is going pretty well, even if her boyfriend doesn't have a job and relies on her for money. Alas, in a perfect storm of terrible events, Alex is laid off and comes home to find her boyfriend sleeping with another woman. She takes her anger out on a shopper at the local department store, punching the shopper in the face after a brief confrontation involving a blouse. Alex is sentenced to an anger management class, where she meets other frustrated women like Stella (Jennifer Coolidge, American Pie), Nikki (Amber Heard, Pineapple Express) and Kim (Joey Lauren Adams, Chasing Amy).
One night, the girls visit a local bar to wind down after their tense anger management session. Unfortunately, Kim's abusive husband Tom (Blaine Gray) drops by to berate and beat his wife for staying out late. Enraged by what she's witnessed, Stella persuades Alex and Nikki to follow Tom home and scare him a little bit. Things are taken a little far, and before long the enraged girls have driven Tom off the road...and off a cliff. Alex is horrified, but Stella and Nikki find surprising empowerment in this turn of events. Without Alex's knowledge, they continue to aid frustrated, abused women by tracking down their douchebag husbands and causing "accidental deaths." As the bodies pile up, Alex slowly discovers the truth of what her new pals are up to. Now she faces a dilemma: does she turn her friends in to her hunky new cop boyfriend (Matthew Settle, Gossip Girl) or does she join the club?
Imagine for a moment that someone decided to make a film in which a group of frustrated men banded together and decided to devote their lives to murdering adulterous, physically and/or emotionally abusive women in order to help their long-suffering fellow men gain personal freedom. There's no doubt that such a film would be criticized as something offensive and sexist. However, ExTerminators takes the exact same idea and forces the men and women to switch places. Now it's supposed to play as a darkly funny tale of female empowerment, as a team of cheerful gal pals whack a bunch of dumb husbands and boyfriends in the name of liberation.
While I don't think the movie works, the idea isn't an entirely worthless one. There's a very entertaining black comedy hiding somewhere in this idea; perhaps something along the lines of Danny DeVito's Throw Momma From the Train or The War of The Roses. In those films, characters in frustrated personal relationships eventually became so irritated with the other party that they were willing to resort to extreme violence in order to solve the situation. Those movies worked, in part because A) we were dealing with distinct individual characters, and B) DeVito spent enough time humorously depicting the frustrations of the characters that we basically understood where they were coming from with the whole murder idea.
ExTerminators is more problematic because it's painting on a broader canvas -- this is the story of women vs. men, not Barbara vs. Oliver. The film's general depiction of men is a particularly unpleasant one -- nearly every male in the movie is some sort of slob, jerk, liar or creep, save for the one vanilla-flavored angel played by Matthew Settle (the characters' inclusion seems an obligatory, "okay, not all men deserve to be murdered" disclaimer). In addition, the men simply aren't given a chance to account for themselves on most occasions -- we see brief glimpses of them behaving badly and then we see their corpses. The film's depiction of women is bothersome in its own way, making just about every female character an angry victim defined almost entirely by the way men treat her. The lack of characterization and development prevents us from really being able to sympathize in most cases. It's one thing for the women to want to take out Tom...I mean, c'mon, he beat his wife in front of everybody and seems a loathsome human being in every possible way...but any grating offense qualifies a guy for execution. Sleep with another woman, act like a douchebag, make sexist remarks...then die. Obviously, these men are tools and women deserve better, but there's a vastly better way to deal with it: dump their asses and move on (or if they're being abusive, call the cops).
Okay. Enough ramblings from a guy pleading for his life. While the film is competently helmed by cinematographer-turned-director John Inwood, it just isn't that funny or suspenseful (the two notes it primarily seems to be aiming for). A group of angry women banding together to murder bad men should be the starting point of the comedy, not the finish line. The film banks on the idea that viewers will find the basic concept hilarious enough to carry the entire thing. Likewise, the whole affair is so lightweight that we never sense the women are in any real danger of being caught (or at least punished) for their crimes. The flash-forwards in which Heather Graham tells her story to an unseen man holding a camera prove a tiresome gimmick with a predictable punch line.
The performances are solid if unremarkable, with Jennifer Coolidge standing out as a highlight. She finds this amusing middle ground between sweet-natured concern and murderous rage that proves subtly amusing, while Amber Heard seems to enjoy herself as the oddball assistant (even if she is forced to perform one terribly-written monologue which suggests that we really ought to return to calling mentally challenged individuals "retards"). Heather Graham is just sort of there in the central role, never really investing herself in the part enough to sell it. Still, she gets the job done. As I mentioned, Settle is simply bland, while Sam Lloyd (Scrubs) turns in a painfully unamusing performance as a creepy IRS Agent with a constant head cold.
Oh, did I mention that Stella runs an extermination business? Yeah. That's definitely an innovative idea that serves as an endless source of delightful irony.
ExTerminators arrives on DVD sporting a solid, pleasant 1080p transfer, offering considerable detail and respectable depth. I was a little alarmed when I popped the disc in, as the trailers that appear before the film look pretty crappy. Fortunately, once the film begins we're on solid ground. A minimal level of grain is present throughout, though it seems to have been largely scrubbed during some washed-out flashback sequences. Huh. Audio is fine but underwhelming, as the sound design is minimal and there's very little that actually engages your speaker system in any significant way. The track is primarily focused on dialogue, which comes through with clarity. Supplements are limited to a 21-minute gag reel, which is funnier than the actual film.
The film's ungainly portrait of both sexes really bugs me, but even putting that aside, ExTerminators is an underwhelming little movie.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
Running Time: 92 Minutes
Release Year: 2010
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Gag Reel