Killing Gunther (2017)

I’ll give low-budget B-movies a fair bit of latitude, so if they show some invention or life to them, I’ll try and find something to enjoy and ignore the slow spots and technical shortcomings. But when big-budget, major studio efforts, starring famous names, do the same? They have no excuse.

Writing and directing “Killing Gunther” is the reason Taran Killam was fired from the cast of ”Saturday Night Live”, and right about now I’m willing to bet he’s wishing he hadn’t bothered. It’s a movie that expects the plot to make you laugh, because there are great long stretches where it’s just a room full of annoying people shouting at each other with nothing resembling a joke anywhere nearby.

The plot is, Killam is a hitman who’s annoyed with Gunther (Arnold Schwarzenegger), the world’s greatest hitman, so decides to kill him, assembling a team politely described as wacky to do so. There’s Donnie (Bobby Moynihan), an explosives expert; Sanaa (Hannah Simone), the cold-blooded daughter of a former terrorist – the Dad follows her round her kills cheering her on; Yong (Aaron Yoo), a poisoner; Gabe (Paul Brittain), the tech expert who’s terrible with tech; and Mia and Barold (Alison Tolman and Ryan Gaul), a couple of all-round Russian monsters. Oh, I forgot the guy with the robotic arm, who’s a one-joke character anyway, just not a good joke.

Anyway, as mentioned, most of the first two-thirds of the movie is this group of people failing to kill Gunther and arguing, with extraordinarily weak special effects for “blood spatter” and explosions, like, Troma-level bad. I mean, I’d have been embarrassed to have them in my movie, if I was Killam, and I can only imagine how bad they’d have looked on a full-size cinema screen.

For a movie with Arnie front and center on the poster, he’s barely in it. He doesn’t show up at all until 67 minutes, and then doesn’t really do a lot in the last thirty either. Well, I say thirty, there’s a long long end credit roll, like seven minutes or so. His bits are mostly great, and he shows a real flair for comedy, although I’m certain a few of the jokes were ones he asked for himself, showing that wealthy actor / former Governors are not necessarily the best judges of joke quality. But I could be wrong, it’s not like the rest of the movie is much better.

The central conceit is one that’s been done to much greater effect by other filmmakers. Christopher Guest has made many comedy mockumentaries, and they’re almost always funnier than this, despite having the “excuse” of being largely improvised. Heck, there’s even been one about a murderer, the fantastic “Man Bites Dog”, which is funnier, darker and cleverer than this could ever hope to be. I admire the lengths “Killing Gunther” goes to to maintain the conceit, though, to the extent that when the documentarians who Killam has forced to film him under pain of death abandon their cameras, the only footage we get is when the actors happen to be in the shot. Doesn’t make it any funnier, of course, but they commit.

I know it’s an obvious thing to say when the majority of your main cast are famous sketch comedy performers, but it feels like it’d have been better as a sketch. Killam isn’t much of a director, allowing the handheld nature of his format to dominate proceedings; nor is he, sadly, much of a writer, which is the most surprising part of all of it. Moynihan is the only person who emerges from proceedings with dignity intact – his part was funny and fully-realised. But Killam was dull in the main role, having a series of tics but no real character, and then there was a whole thing with his real-life wife Cobie Smulders which was a complete nothing of a subplot.

Perhaps the worst thing about it is you can occasionally see a much funnier film poking through. Performers this good are going to hit the mark occasionally, and there’s a few infectiously funny scenes and moments. But from the moment I turned it on, full of energy and anticipation, it just gradually sucked the energy out of the room, and had an ending so stupid and pointless that it managed to make a bad movie even worse.

If you want to watch a mockumentary…about killers…made by a documentary crew doing it under protest…then there are still several better options. If you don’t, there are thousands. “Killing Gunther” was almost certainly funnier to make than it was to watch.

Rating: thumbs down

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