SDFF Review: ‘Killing Gunther’ Runs Out Of Ammunition
It’s tough to see a great premise go to waste. Killing Gunther is not a complete loss, but there is some excellent potential for a pseudo-documentary focused on a group of professional assassins. This is especially the case when a talented cast is arranged with one major star at the center. Sadly, SNL alum Taran Killam has written and directed a film that is funny in spots but doesn’t manage to hold together for its 90-minute runtime. Still, there is an eventual payoff that makes for a fun use of the film’s titular character. It’s just a shame the concept couldn’t generate more laughs along the way.
The idea involves Killam’s Blake, a hitman, putting together a plan to kill the world’s greatest assassin so that he can inherit the title. To do this, Blake will need a skilled team to work with. This includes a demolitions expert (Bobby Moynihan), the daughter of a notorious Middle Eastern assassin (Hannah Simone), a poison expert (Aaron Yoo), a skilled hacker (Paul Brittain), and two sociopathic Russian assassin siblings (Allison Tolman and Ryan Gaul), among others. Using a documentary crew Blake is forcing to film them for the sake of proof, we follow the antics of this group, as they go after the notorious killer.
Part of the film’s logic is that Gunther is a mystery, as no one knows what he looks like. I suppose a larger-scaled film would rely on the cast to sell the premise and keep the actual reveal a secret. However, because this is a smaller film that needs to reveal that detail to help sell it, I’m going to tell you that Arnold Schwarzenegger plays Gunther and he is a joy to watch. Schwarzenegger seems to revel in the chance to play a broadly comedic character, making me wonder if he would have been game to film more scenes and round out the film better (I mean, he even sings the closing credits song).
While the ridiculous scenarios the rest of the cast gets into have their moments, it is hard not to be fixated on Schwarzenegger once he shows up. It’s been interesting to see the aging action star take on a variety of roles in this late stage in his career. Whether its the sorrowful father of a girl turning into a zombie (Maggie), an imprisoned Robin Hood-type (Escape Plan), or a seasoned assassin with a sense of humor, like in this movie, the man seems to be happy using his persona in differing ways (which is honestly not unlike his comedic output that went alongside his peak action film era). The work here is enough to end the film on a high, but the middle section suffers by not quite knowing how to keep the premise intriguing.
There is plenty of joy early on when seeing the initial setup of the characters, and Moynihan does his best to keep things continually lively (the guy is always funny), but time spent in this film eventually wears. Killam is having fun making faces, despite playing things straight, but rooting everything around his character takes away from getting the full mileage out of the others. As a result, there are a lot of repeated beats, with some truly clever moments lessening as the film goes on.
That said, for a low-budget movie, there are some fun comedic action-based moments. One scenario involves a gun-fight/foot chase that emphasizes characters doing silly flips over obstacles. Another sequence finds the group ambushed by a series of car bombs, thanks to Gunther’s ability to be ahead of the other assassins every step of the way. I could give or take my enjoyment of the film’s darker humor involving character deaths, as the tone never really goes anywhere beyond reveling in its silliness, but there are at least some creative kills.
There are some good gags in Killing Gunther that elicit chuckles, and the cast is game to have fun while playing it straight and not concerning themselves with any logic. Again, the foundation is there, but it never entirely takes off, and it’s up to Schwarzenegger to salvage everything. It’s just too bad one has to wait a good amount of time to get there. Even then, mileage may vary on how much fun one has with the Gunther stuff. I dug it, but there is still a film that overall feels like a missed opportunity.