Men are pigs. They're abusive, cheating, lying pigs, and their well deserved violent deaths are appropriate fodder for a few chuckles. At least, that's the premise of Heather Graham's comedy vehicle Exterminators.
Alex (Heather Graham) is having a tough time of it. She gets laid off from her accounting job and comes home early to find her musician husband having sex on the couch with his girlfriend. After the divorce, she goes out for a little retail therapy, and ends up in an altercation with a rather snooty gentleman over a snappy blouse (he wants it for his girlfriend), and she ends up punching him in the nose. This lands her a sentence of one year attending a weekly rage therapy session. The session is a group affair, and while there she runs into several women with whom she will develop deep friendships. Stella (Jennifer Coolidge) is the jaded owner of an extermination company. Nikki (Amber Heard) is the unstable young dental assistant. And Kim (Joey Lauren Adams) is the meek wife who can't tear herself away from her abusive husband.
When the ladies happen to see Kim's husband in the next car over, after he's just smacked Kim around in a bar, they decide to follow him. They're a little boozed up, and want to teach the rascal a lesson by forcing his car off the road. Unfortunately, he goes a little too far off the road and over a cliff, plunging to his death. Alex, Stella and Nikki pledge never to tell of their involvement, and are quite surprised when Kim gives them $10,000 in payment for their "favor". Soon, other women come calling, asking if the ladies can help with their own problem husbands. Alex wants nothing to do with it, but secretly suspects that Stella and Nikki have continued on with the work. Her budding romance with Detective Dan Burke (Matthew Settle) who happens to be investigating the death of Kim's husband is awkward enough and creepy IRS agent Hutt (Sam Lloyd) bent on blackmail only makes Alex's life more complicated.
Exterminators is at times quite clever, and often funny. It engenders many smiles, but fewer open laughs. It can be hard at times to develop sympathy for these women, at least two of whom are cold blooded killers for money. Alex is carefully insulated from full culpability, but she at least suspects what her friends are doing, and does precious little to stop it. Sure, Kim's husband was abusive, and had threatened to kill her. And one of the other victims was a serial philanderer. But is this really a call for wholesale murder? Much of this obstacle is overcome by the first rate cast and high quality performances. Heather Graham is believable and charming as the withdrawn, timid divorcee who is trying to make her way in the world under a lot of pressure. Even Jennifer Coolidge and Amber Heard as the more bloodthirsty (and almost sociopathic in Nikki's case) of the trio manage to gin up some good will. These are likeable, if sadistically violent, women.
Having said that, the film is not as funny as it ought to be. There are a few chuckles, and a fair amount of grins, but no laugh out loud moments. The timing seemed to be just a few beats off in most places, but a little off in the timing is all it takes to smother incipient comedy. It seemed to either need to be more outlandish and bizarre, or more grounded and dark. Instead it hovers somewhere in between, and loses a portion of the humor. Exterminators is a pleasant film, relatively undemanding, and at times even fun. But it is not a comedy breakout.