Phil Leirness’ The Lady Killers follows a group of seven male friends: a detective named Pete (Jamie Kaler), a dentist named Michael (Shaun Parker), a personal trainer named Stephen (Burt Bulos), an investment banker named Dan (Arye Gross), a psychiatrist named John (Leirness himself), a high school teacher named Brian (Peter Shinkoda), and a professional fixer named Paul (Dean Haglund). At the beginning of the film, they all gather at a bar to prepare for what they excitedly refer to as a “game.”
As we quickly come to see, this “game” turns out to be a deeply repulsive exercise in misogyny. The guys will pay $30,000 to whoever can make the best sexual “conquest” – namely, have sex with a woman in the most “audacious” way possible. As an illustration of what this means, Pete approvingly cites Paul, who apparently once had a three-way in a lecture hall.
“…they all gather at a bar to prepare for what they excitedly refer to as a ‘game.'”
Over the course of the film, we watch as these men resort to increasingly desperate – and despicable – measures for the sake of victory. Brian seduces one of his students, Pete has sex with Dan’s wife, Stephen makes up an angst-filled story about his high-school years, and Michael drugs a woman. For a while, it looks like the men’s actions won’t carry any real-world consequences – until, one by one, they mysteriously end up getting murdered.
For most of The Lady Killers, you’ll probably find yourself feeling a mixture of disgust and anger. In large part, that’s because the film often appears to endorse its male characters’ behavior. Aside from the fact that Leirness treats all the female characters as sex objects, lighthearted background music tries to make the men’s actions look humorous. Worse, the film’s portrayal of Michael seems to condone his behavior, suggesting that rape is excusable when a guy feels sexually frustrated.
“Far from endorsing its characters’ behavior, the film wants to satirize it.”
In the last five minutes of the film, however, just about everything changes. Since I don’t want to go into spoilers, suffice it to say that there’s a twist ending that’ll completely alter your opinion of the entire film. Far from endorsing its characters’ behavior, the film wants to satirize it. To put it differently, the lightheartedness of Leirness’ attitude towards his male characters is intentional: with it, he indirectly criticizes how our society implicitly upholds misogyny through sexist stereotypes, demeaning tropes, and dangerous clichés like “boys will be boys.”
The Lady Killers definitely isn’t a perfect film. The third act proves quite melodramatic, many parts of the plot rely on questionable logic, and as mentioned, the final payoff takes a very long time in coming. But on the whole, what Leirness has done here will leave you rather impressed. He proves himself to be an intelligent, audacious filmmaker, and ultimately, it’s a shame that not many other films demonstrate such a willingness to provoke their audiences.
The Lady Killers (2017) Directed by Phil Leirness. Written by Phil Leirness. Starring Jamie Kaler, Burt Bulos, and Peter Shinkoda.
6 out of 10