1 out of 5
Directed by: Taran Killam
I am not surprised that Killing Gunther writer / director Taran Killam is an 00s-era SNL alum. Many of the stars from that time suffered from a smile-at-the-camera self-awareness that, for me, killed the efficacy of many-a sketch, and Gunther is about 90 minutes of that. It unfortunately wastes a good setup for comedy hijinks with such a tone, and by belaboring it to feature length, makes it almost intolerably frustrating when none of the jokes manage to hit a successful beat. The things that are funny in an offhand way – funny concepts – are either held for moments too long to make sure you “get” it, or are shot with a flashiness that does a silly comedy flick no favors; the things that are not funny are that way because, often, they’re coasting on whatever’s the most obvious joke to make – you can write the bits before they happen, but I guess as long as you say it with a silly accent and in costume, it’s supposed to make you laugh. (This is, also, from that same school of SNL humor.)
I also question the way Arnold Schwarzeneggar was used in the film. Not because of his actual role – he’s a highlight of the damn thing, injecting a seasoned energy and camera savviness into proceedings where many of the other actors are just treading the script’s water – it’s more that Killing Gunther seems to be setting up his appearance as a reveal, which would’ve been good fun… if he wasn’t the top billed actor and featured prominently on the poster, though I can accept that as a marketing decision and not Killam’s.
And then there’s the primary sin of a silly movie: trying to be serious. Killing Gunther is, for most intents and purposes, a cartoon. Assassin Blake (Killam) gets a crew of other assassins together to take down the top man in the biz – the mysterious Gunther – and one of the assassins has a robot arm, and two are Russian tourists who want to see Disney Land (wasting Allison Tolman…), and one only assassinates by throwing little vials of poison, and one has a cheerleading father by her side at all times… These character sketches are humorous, and are purposefully played way over the top, and the first half-ish of the movie is the crew trying and failing – in cartoonish fashion – to kill Gunther. Yeah, it suffers from that self-awareness nonsense that I’ve complained about, and I didn’t laugh, but whatever, it was acceptably dumb. …Until the subplot with Blake trying to get his ex-girlfriend (Cobie Smulders) back. The movie doesn’t necessarily turn into a drama, but it starts to let several scenes elapse without making a joke, and there’re some choice lines here that are suggestive of Killam trying to write these sketches as real people, and it just doesn’t mix at all. Everything the movie does after this point is just insult to injury.
This is all hitched to a faux “documentary” approach, in which Blake hires a crew to film his Gunther-killing, and that format of course becomes more problematic to justify as the film continues.