Friday, October 20, 2017

Killing Gunther: Don’t Stop with Him

When you think about it, hitmen are really serial killers who get paid for it. Nevertheless, the movie business likes to romanticize them. This is shaping up to be a bumper year for hitmen comedies. If you want to watch something smart and challenging, check out Kills on Wheels. If you’re in the mood for something dumb but funny, the surprise hit Hitman’s Bodyguard is probably still around. It looks like collaboration between Preston Sturges and Noel Coward compared to Taran Killam’s dumb but excruciatingly unfunny Killing Gunther (trailer here), which opens today in New York.

Blake is a whiny, self-absorbed hitman, who is determined to leap-frog to the top of his industry by taking out the long-reigning top dog, Robert Bendik, a.k.a. Gunther. To do so, he recruits a team of top professionals, including Donnie the demolitions expert, Sanaa the femme fatale sniper, a pair of creepy Russian siblings, and Yong, a useless poisoner. They try to set up Gunther with a phony contract, but he still has the drop on them. Inevitably, the hunters become the hunted. We will see the tables turn mockumentary-style, thanks to the documentary crews the two rival hitmen have convinced at gunpoint to capture their shenanigans.

Right now, you’re probably wondering who is Taran Killam? In the short run, the answer is one of those blandly disposable former SNL cast-members. Judging from this film, the long-term answer is he’s nobody. As Blake, Killam is just an offensively boring man-child. If he gave you the choice of documenting his every move on camera or a bullet to the head, you would probably say: “double tap me now.” However, if you want unrepentant shtick than brother, does Arnold Schwarzenegger ever deliver. It is down-right depressing watching his gas-bag gags involving country & western crooning and lederhosen.

As Sanaa, Hannah Simone is about the only cast-member who shows any dignity and screen presence during the film. Yet, Killam cannot resist undercutting her with awkward jokes involving her fanatically over-protective Iranian father Rahmat. Cobie Smulders doesn’t get much chance to exercise her comedy chops as Lisa McCalla, the ex-girlfriend of both Blake and Gunther, but that also means she gets through the movie relatively unscathed (watch her work in the weirdly underappreciated Slammin’ Salmon instead).

After fifteen minutes, you’ll want to take a contract out on this movie. Gunther causes genuine pain and we are not talking about ribs that are sore from laughing. However, it should lead to an upward critical reappraisal of Hitman’s Bodyguard, a mere two months after its initial release. Just plain sad, Killing Gunther opens today (10/20) in New York, at the Village East.