Rando! Killing Gunther (2017)
A few months or years or decades back (who can tell these days?) I saw a trailer for a mockumentary I’d never heard of starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, the funnyman behind such all-time comedy classics as The Villain, Junior and Jingle All the Way called Killing Gunther.
I was intrigued. One of the biggest movie stars in the world had returned to comedy and nobody even seemed to have noticed! I vowed, right then and there, to possibly write about Killing Gunther if I was feeling really bored or anxious and didn’t have anything of actual value or interest to write about.
Well, friends, today I launched the Kickstarter for the book version of the Weird Accordion to Al. I was, accordingly, nervous as fuck. I vibrated with anxiety. Would anyone want to buy my book? Had I wildly overestimated its commercial potential? Was I setting myself up for crushing disappointment by having high hopes for latest literary baby? What would I do if the campaign was a failure? How would I feed my family? Can my fragile psyche even handle any more rejection?
It’s hard to concentrate on work, or anything else, really, when you launch a campaign you’re super excited and nervous about. It’s hard to not compulsively refresh your Kickstarter page, particularly when things are going well.
It was like the day The Big Rewind sold in 2007: I spent part of the day reviewing Epic Movie and I can assure you, brother, that my energy and focus were not entirely reserved for the late period Seltzer/Friedberg abomination.
I needed something to watch and write about that would not be too intellectually taxing, or challenging in any conceivable sense. I needed what the We Hate Movies gents call a “hangover movie.” So I thought back to Killing Gunther and decided that this most important of days would be a fine time to try to distract my frazzled brain with this least important of trifles.
The Amazon Prime image of Killing Gunther shows Schwarzenegger by himself even if the Austrian bodybuilder, former California governor and towering action icon doesn’t even show up until the film’s third act, and then has maybe fifteen minutes of screen time. Killing Gunther is cynically being sold as an Arnold Schwarzenegger vehicle when it’s really a vehicle for Saturday Night Live funnyman Taran Killam, who also wrote and directed.
The bait and switch is understandable, if regrettable. Arnold Schwarzenegger is one of the most famous people on earth. As recently as fifteen years ago, he was one of our biggest movie stars and most dependable box-office draws. I’m not sure I would be able to pick Killam out of a police line-up.
It’s easy to see why Schwarzenegger might have been tempted to return to the world of pratfalls, shenanigans and comical monkeyshines after a few laughers that were less than rapturously received. The Kindergarten Cop star’s part feels like the kind of role that can be filmed in three days in one of Schwarzenegger’s mansions.
It furthermore casts the Twins star in a role that flatters his ego as the greatest hitman in the world, a legend of the field so dominating that he has no problem completely destroying competition decades younger than himself. It’s not a role so much as it’s a big, hammy star turn that allows Schwarzenegger to spoof his image playing a man of violence who has made a good living murdering people (not unlike Schwarzenegger made fortunes pretending to kill people) but now wants to entertain people in addition to killing them.
There’s a lot going on with Gunther’s character even if he’s MIA from the film’s first hour except in the form of a fleetingly glimpsed body double decades younger and substantially more spry than the 69 year old playing the title character.
The movie’s big star doesn’t show up until the end, clearly having a blast playing a very silly character in a very silly movie but Killing Gunther peaks in its first twenty minutes, with the introduction of lead Blake (Killam), a perpetually suit-clad narcissist and his crew of kooky killers.
There’s Donnie (Bobby Moynihan of Saturday Night Live and Comedy Bang Bang), an affable teddy bear of a man/explosives specialist put on earth to blow shit up as well as Yong (Aaron Yoo), a poison specialist who learns from experience that there are very, very few situations that call for a poison guy and an infinite number of scenarios that do not. The same is true of a squad member with a stupendously powerful fake arm and and hand that similarly only proves useful once in a very long while.
Then there’s Sanaa (Hannah Simone), a second generation international assassin struggling unsuccessfully to escape the lingering shadow of her father, a remorseless killer known as “The Nightmare” who doubles as an embarrassingly supportive super-dad who couldn’t be prouder of his darling little girl’s gift for killing people for money, as well as Ashley (Aubrey Sexto), Blake’s beloved mentor and a stoner cold killer at an age where he’s perpetually hovering on the verge of death himself.
At its best, Killing Gunther is a gleeful, blood-splattered dark comedy of amorality about people who seem blissfully unaware that there’s anything remotely wrong, criminal or even unkind about slaughtering strangers for money. Until a rival hitman vindictively sends the FBI after Blake it’s not even apparent that murder-for-hire is even illegal in this weird world.
Killing Gunther is essentially Man Bites Dog by way of MacGruber but nowhere near as inspired, funny or fresh as either film. The action-comedy takes the form of a mockumentary Blake is forcing an unfortunate film crew to make about his team’s epic quest to take down Gunther, a mysterious super-assassin who just so happened to have slept with Lisa (Cobie Smulders in a thankless role), Blake’s ex-girlfriend.
The badass bro murder squad aesthetic of testosterone orgies like the Mission Impossible, Fast and the Furious and XXX franchises gives Killam and his gifted collaborators a lot to work with. For its first twenty minutes or so, Killing Gunther generates a steady stream of laughs as Blake’s team tries to draw out Gunther so they can eliminate him but only end up getting killed themselves in the process.
Gunther is like a ghost, a panther, felt but seldom seen. He’s myth more than man until he eventually shows up and reveals himself to be both staggeringly gifted in the dark arts of murder on a Jason Bourne/James Bond level and a giant cornball excited about building his brand.
Killing Gunther feels like an archetypal Saturday Night Live-derived comedy in that it’s funny and clever and radiates tremendous promise in its first twenty minutes yet feels exhausted and depleted by its final twenty minutes, when Schwarzenegger finally shows the fuck up with his own set of documentary cameras as the climax to his own elaborate show.
The documentary director in Killing Gunther is a character in the narrative but he’s just barely a character. Like the rest of the film, the mockumentary elements function effectively as a gag-dissemination machine until it ceases to function at all. Killam has surrounded himself with one-joke characters that are funny the first time around but quickly wear out their welcome.
If you’re really morbidly fascinated by Schwarzenegger’s participation in a moderately budgeted, barely released comic mockumentary I suggest that you watch this for free on Amazon Prime and skip ahead to the credits, where a wonderfully game Schwarzenegger sings, after.a fashion, a country song.
It’s the highlight of this totally passable mediocrity in no small part because it closes with “Gunther” insisting that his first take will also be his last take and his only take, a joke that works because it doesn’t sound like a joke at all, but rather Schwarzenegger, speaking through his character, to put a very reasonable limit on his involvement in a project this minor and inconsequential, if intermittently inspired.
Schwarzenegger was clearly not going to waste what precious time he has left nailing his Country & Western vocals: it’s impressive that he showed up in the first place, which is true of the film as well. Like The Villain, the last entry in Rando!, this is notable almost exclusively for Schwarzenegger’s presence and while he’s clearly enjoying himself, Killing Gunther peaks comedically long before he ever shows up.
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