Let’s Kill Ward’s Wife is a black comedy that intermittingly mines the sort of curdled laughs that one might associate with a Danny DeVito film. As with most of DeVito’s movies as a director, or really most dark American comedies in general, the premise here pertains to the potentials of boredom and privilege for casually eroding even the most basic tenets of conventional morality. The characters in this film are actors, journalists, and other apparently well-off sorts on the edges of the entertainment world that are so wrapped up in their own domestic cocoons that they can kill someone, cut her up, and dispose of the body without betraying the kind of composure that would be more appropriate if the crime had remained a ghoulish “what if” discussed over dinner.
Filmmaker Scott Foley’s direction is smooth, professional, and a mite impersonal, and that’s just right for the satirically contemptuous tone that’s intended. There appears to be a layer of moneyed gauze between the characters and the audience. The wideness of the shots dilutes the action, spreading the variables of each scene out, slowing the film down, and emphasizing the notion that each of the yuppies at the film’s center are forever in their own private world, regardless of whatever obliging feelings they may espouse for their mate or children.
Any pretense of satire collapses by the film’s midpoint, however, leaving only the contempt. Ward’s wife (Dagmara Dominczyk) is a cartoonish monster who elicits no feeling from Foley or us, and that’s fine as long as the film understands that callousness to be, well, callous. But Let’s Kill Ward’s Wife turns into a more or less sincere remarriage parable that shows how the death of an abusive woman improves the lives of those who surrounded her. Ward (Donald Faison) can hang with his buds again, and his friends can finally restart their sexually stalled relationships. Foley’s insisting, in other words, that first-degree murder is reasonable so long as the victim is suitably inconvenient. (It never occurs to the director that Ward bears some responsibility for his terrible marriage.)
It can be argued that the happy ending, complete with a montage of smiling families, is ironic, but that irony barely comes through considering the sexist distancing that reliably pervades the film. The women are obliging hot objects, except for the titular ball buster, and the dudes are amiable lapdogs who golf and horse around, with the occasional beer and lay to mix things up. This film isn’t really a satire or a parody then, and by the end it’s barely a comedy of any kind. It’s really a celebration of brahs being brahs, regardless of what the price for their obliviousness may be.