Only in his hilariously taunting online videos addressed to Donald Trump does Arnold Schwarzenegger seem to be having more fun than in Taran Killam’s violence-infused mockumentary Killing Gunther. Playing the titular role of Gunther, a legendary hitman, the veteran action star clearly relishes the opportunity to sing country music, pose in lederhosen and deliver such lines as “My cappuccino is to die for.” Unfortunately, Schwarzenegger doesn’t show up until more than an hour into this relentlessly unfunny comedy, and by then, viewers may have tuned out long before.
The film marks the directorial debut of former Saturday Night Live performer Killam, who also scripted. Not surprisingly, it has the feel of an extended sketch, albeit the sort of mediocre one that fills out the show’s final minutes. Killam also plays the lead role of Blake, a career assassin who makes it his mission to dispatch his primary rival, Gunther, the world’s most notorious hired killer. Besides seeking to establish his own reputation, Blake also has a personal motive, since his former girlfriend (Cobie Smulders, Killams‘ real-life spouse), with whom he’s still desperately in love, had a fling with Gunther after they broke up.
Schwarzenegger clearly had fun, but you won’t.
Blake rounds up a special crew to help him, including a bumbling explosives expert (fellow SNL player Bobby Moynihan); a female sharpshooter (Hannah Simone) with an overprotective father (Peter Kelamis); a “technology operations and intelligence specialist” (Paul Brittain) who proves adept at neither; a poison specialist (Aaron Yoo) whose particular skills are of little use during shootouts; and a pair of Russian siblings (Ryan Gaul, Allison Tolman) with anger issues. Blake also “hires” a film crew — or more accurately, threatens to kill them if they don’t cooperate — to document the team’s efforts.
More than anything, Killing Gunther demonstrates that Christopher Guest has a lot to atone for with his pioneering of the mockumentary, which has become the lazy, go-to style for low-budget comedies. The format is employed here to highly unimaginative effect, which might be forgivable if the handheld cameras were capturing anything funny. Unfortunately, the broad characterizations, forced situations and clunky dialogue register barely a laugh, despite the presence of such undeniable comic talents as Moynihan and Tolman.
It’s only when Schwarzenegger finally appears in the final act do the proceedings take on the sort of antic craziness required. But even that is due less to the writing and direction than to the goofy pleasure the actor seems to be having during his short screen time. Wearing a variety of outlandish outfits, sporting a crazily spiked haircut and somehow managing the difficult feat of making himself look fearsome and utterly ridiculous at the same time, his presence is almost, but not enough, to redeem this misbegotten comedy.
Production companies: Folktale Productions, Ingenious Media, Miscellaneous Entertainment, Rookfield Productions, Rowdy Row Productions RuYi Media, StarStream Media, WWKG Productions
Distributor: Saban Films, Lionsgate
Cast: Taran Killam, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bobby Moynihan, Cobie Smulders, Hannah Simone, Allison Tolman
Director-screenwriter: Taran Killam
Producers: Kim Leadford, Steve Squillante, Taran Killam, Ash Sarohia
Executive producers: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Charles Bonan, Charles Auty, Maxime Cottray, A. Lex Hammer, D. Todd Shepherd, Joe Simpson, William V. Bromiley, Ness Saban, Shanan Becker
Director of photography: Blake McClure
Production designer: Ermanno Di Febo-Orsini
Editor: Adam Epstein
Composer: Dino Meneghin
Costume designers: Reiko Schoenfeld Kurumada, Ariana Preece
Rated R, 92 minutes