Inspired by Adam Nayman’s book It Doesn’t Suck: Showgirls, this brand new column is dedicated to movies that received either mixed or negative reviews. Just like Nayman’s analysis contributed to Paul Verhoeven’s movie’s classic cult status, reviews presented in this category aim at highlighting everything brilliant about overlooked masterpieces and new releases.
By: Maria R. (Two Beers) –
Released just a month ago, Killing Gunther has mostly received negative reviews with few critics appreciating the former Saturday Night Live alum’s first directorial effort. This should come as no surprise, though, as even the synopsis of Taran Killam’s debut sounds generic and anything but exciting. Indeed, given a number of movies revolving around ensembles that have been produced over the past few years, the story of seven killers hired by the insecure hitman Blake (Killam) to take down the assassin Gunther (Arnold Schwarzenegger) who has been screwing him over professionally and personally doesn’t seem too unique. At first glance, the use of the mockumentary format isn’t likely to excite potential viewers either, for the style has been associated with low-budget indies for quite awhile now. So why doesn’t this movie suck?
Schwarzenegger has been in the centre of the movie’s marketing campaign which has led to many disappointed spectators and dubious critiques that have denoted the actor’s short amount of screen time. On the other hand, Killam should be praised for the sole fact that not everything that is funny and actually worth seeing was used in the film’s trailer. That said, even though each member of Blake’s crew is introduced in the teasers, seeing them in the first act doesn’t feel repetitive: Killam has a lot to offer as the narration progresses. Paradoxically, the characters who at times look like they’ve been inspired by re-used caricatures look more fresh and interesting than the Suicide Squad members. Plus, luckily for us, they’re all shown within the first 15 minutes before the act gets stale.
In addition to that, kudos go to Killam for not relying on the vérité style as the main asset to squeeze laughs out of the audience. Instead, using the documentarians to move the plot along without having them break the forth wall, he focuses more on the likes of his “team”: Allison Tolman, Bobby Moynihan, Aaron Yoo, Steve Bacic, Ryan Gaul, Amir Talai, and Paul Brittain. The cast was given a chance to improvise on set, and without a doubt that was the best decision one could make to create the illusion of chemistry between the characters that are united by such a questionable goal. Moreover, the plot twists that might have been considered cheap in a different genre magically work here; take the ridiculous romantic storyline between Sanaa (Simone) and Donnie (Moynihan) for example.
Here’s what doesn’t seem to work though. First, there’s Killam’s bizarre combination of action flick sarcastic deconstruction and over-the-top humor. For instance, we have Gabe (Brittain) remarking that it’s impossible to enhance Gunther’s image that the documentarians were able to get during the assassins’ first meeting. The joke is later juxtaposed to the character being killed by a tombstone landing on his head.
Other than that, further into the movie we find out that Blake’s determination is dictated by personal revenge: turns out, Gunther was romantically involved with the hitman’s ex-girlfriend Lisa (Cobie Smulders). The storyline appears underdeveloped and rushed. To make matters worse, it looks like Lisa’s appearance is added only to provide the protagonist with his enemy’s address. To top it all off, Schwarzenegger finally arrives at the very end of the third act.
A lot of people have lamented the waste of the talents implemented in the movie. The characters are quickly eliminated and Blake spends most of his time trying to figure out what he’s doing wrong. In fact, he’s got everything it takes to make things go for him: a dream-team, a mentor (Aubrey Sixto), even Gunther’s address. Maybe this is Killam’s message. Movies are made and their directors feel entitled. They want to be the best and they want it right now.
They combine sophisticated jokes with over-the-top humor without truly balancing it out. They have stars performing in their films, ludicrously expansive CGI effects, and unnecessarily storylines embedded to make their material look like a real full-fledged movie rather than an extended SNL skit. To which Schwarzenegger’s Gunther says: “Well, that’s bullshit. You know how I became the best? I did it the old-fashioned way. I earned it. I’ve been doing it for almost 50 fucking years so I deserve to be the best.”
Whether Schwarzenegger simply deserves to be goofy and silly with his roles just because he’s been in the business for more than 50 years is another question. But the fact that one can’t be the best by simply getting rid of the best holds true. Apart from that, Killing Gunther makes fun of its audience too. Our generation does want immediacy; in other words, we want to see Arnold as soon as possible and get frustrated by the end of the second act where he’s nowhere to be seen. But don’t worry, he shows up eventually, and oh, he’s so worth the waiting. Let’s sincerely hope that one day Killam’s talent is anticipated and appreciated just as much. Given he gets to such point the old-fashioned way.
Killing Gunther (2017) Drinking Game
Take a Drink: whenever a new member of Blake’s team is introduced
Do a Shot: every time one of Blake’s team members dies
Take a Drink: every time you see Sanna’s dad on screen
Do a Shot: every time something doesn’t go the way Blake plans