Killing Gunther Under-Delivers on the Arnold (Review)
Arnold Schwarzenegger going all-out in singing a country song -- not just for some brief karaoke scene, but a song in its entirety that appears to have been written specifically for the unique way the actor pronounces the word "earth" -- is one of the funniest things you'll experience in any movie this year. Unfortunately, it doesn't happen until the end credits of Killing Gunther, a movie that trades on Arnold's name and presence, only to withhold him almost completely until the film's climax.
Produced by Schwarzenegger on a schedule that seems to have been designed to let him work the fewest days possible, and directed by Saturday Night Live alumnus Taran Killam, Killing Gunther mixes the action spoofery of MacGruber with the mockumentaries of Christopher Guest while failing to quite reach the comedic heights of either...save when Schwarzenegger's onscreen. Essentially, it's an Arnold action movie told from the point of view of a disposable villain named Blake (Killam), who has hired a documentary crew to film his attempts to take out the world's greatest hitman, a mysterious figure known only by the name of Gunther. That any character played by Schwarzenegger is supposedly so stealthy as to have always blended in and never been identified is the movie's best meta-joke.
Blake's driven more by the fact that his ex (Cobie Smulders) briefly hooked up with Gunther than by professional rivalry, but the latter is how he's able to recruit a team, including explosives expert Donnie (Bobby Moynihan), poisoner Yong (Aaron Yoo), second-generation terrorist Sanaa (Hannah Simone), and Russian mass-murdering siblings Mia (Allison Tolman) and Max (Steve Bacic). Gunther, however is one step ahead -- it doesn't hurt that they're all pretty much morons -- and, still mostly unseen, sets traps that they easily blunder into and die off one by one.
There are some fun running gags, like the fact that Yong vomits at the sight of blood, so every time there's a punchline of an accidental gruesome death, it's followed by a puke shot and then an angry reaction to said puke shot, effectively tripling the punchline. But until Gunther actually shows up, it's a case of rinse-lather-repeat, as each killer basically has one key trait that's played for laughs in the same way again and again. It doesn't help that Killam's shtick here feels like watered-down Will Ferrell -- he's the arrogant, clueless competitor who believes himself an expert, only to be inevitably reduced to a shrieking mess when reality hits the fan.
Had Gunther shown up earlier, and the proceedings been more of a "Spy versus Spy" series of showdowns with equal coverage to both sides, Gunther would have been a different movie, but probably a much funnier one. Killam needs a deadpan straight man like Schwarzenegger to play off of, and it's great when he gets there, but when he's surrounded by folks trying to out-quirk him it can feel like an improv sketch gone on too long.
That said, if the Blu-ray includes a music video for Arnold's country song, it alone will be worth the sticker price.