I think it was Socrates that said, “You either die a hero, or like sands through an hourglass these are the days of our lives.” I’m paraphrasing of course, but you know what I mean. Arnold Schwarzenegger has been in our lives for such a long time, it’s hard to believe he took a break from acting to be the Governor of California (or is it CALL ee Fon ia?). He has saved us from aliens, mobsters, actual movie villains in the real world, and in some cases, himself. He is the hero so often that it can be more enjoyable at this point in his career to occasionally watch him branch out and become the heel. So now the question becomes, is Killing Gunther one of those times?
Gunther is the world’s top assassin, and a group of eccentric contract killers decide they have had enough of Gunther’s notoriety. They hire a film crew to document their planning and execution of Gunther’s…well, execution. Along the way we find out more about our intrepid team of killers’ background, seasoning up the story with humor and explaining their motivations. They have had it, they want his title, and they are going to show the whole world that THEY are now the best. After an intriguing twist, their plans are bungled and Gunther seems to be one step ahead of them the remainder of the time. All of this is a great outline for a story. With the right direction and the right big name actor for Gunther, we should have a romping good time.
In Killing Gunther, we are watching something that is supposed to be filmed through the eyes of a documentary film group. And it shows. To an annoying degree, it shows. On one hand, director Taran Killam’s film is supposed to make the viewer feel as if they are immersed in this whole caper. On the other, it’s gimmicky and gets in the way of the storytelling, robbing us viewers of any chance of great visual composition. It’s this other hand that gets in the way of an entertaining experience. Unfortunately, this choice creates a viewing experience which simply isn’t immersive, as it always appears we are missing something. Nearly every shot feels pedestrian, lacking imagination and impact. It feels very much like a made-for-TV parody of something greater.
The cast doesn’t help here either. They are fun and they pull a smile out of you from time to time, even occasionally winking directly at the camera. And it all gets in the way of enjoying the movie. They are supposed to be an up-and-coming group of assassins, the next big thing on the hitman circuit. I would not hire these guys to flush a goldfish. I get it, they are supposed to look like Gunther outclasses them at every instance, but they aren’t supposed to look like they outclass themselves. It would have made more sense if Gunther was a figment of their imagination and they were experiencing a joint hallucination.
On the subject of Gunther, we are forced to wait for him to show up at around the 1:07 mark. That’s right, with a runtime of about 1:34, we don’t get to see Arnold chewing up scenery, cracking wise, and improving everything about this movie until two thirds of the way through. Oh boy, did Arnold have fun though. He played with lines from his classics, dressed in lederhosen, and filled the screen with joy. It is one thing to see Gunther outclass his would-be assassins, it’s the exact same thing watching Arnold outclass his costars.
I had high hopes for Killing Gunther. The trailer sold me on a fun romp that let Arnold play with the one-liners of his past and a character he has never done before. What we ended up getting was a middle of the road Saturday Night Live skit. It has a great foundation, but Killam employs far too many winks at the camera or random breaks in character. The shame is the ingredients used for this movie are great on their own, the problem lays with the recipe. Restructure this movie and it would be a contender in the annals of great comedies. I think it was Aristotle that said “a soufflé isn’t the soufflé, it’s the recipe”.
And to answer the question I posed in the beginning of this review, it’s a fantastic 10 minutes of Arnold being the heel. The remainder of the film could just as easily been titled “Killing Expectations”.
Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Cobie Smulders, Taran Killam
Screenplay by Taran Killam
Directed by Taran Killam