Taran Killam (director)
92 mins (length)
24 March 2018 (released)
02 April 2018
Just as the name Mel Brooks is synonymous with spoofs; when thinking of mockumentaries, there is one name that springs quickly to mind. The success of legend Christopher Guest’s films rely on a relatively simple formula. Take a naturally strange or conflicted group of people (dog show competitors, a struggling rock band, amateur actors); give each character a few eccentricities to distinguish them; and follow them around whilst they do and say stupidly hilarious things. Killing Gunther is a mockumentary that follows a group of contract killers who have joined forces to take on the titular assassin. 90 minutes of mishaps, silliness and explosions; Taran Killam’s directorial debut picks up Guest’s formula and runs with it.
As writer, director and lead actor, Killam sets himself a big challenge. And technically, he succeeds. The action sequences are well coordinated, if a little short lived and unoriginal, and the camerawork, though simple, is effective enough to facilitate each gag. There should be no doubts about Killam’s ability as a comic actor, and he is supported by a strong team. Standouts include Killam’s SNL alums Bobby Moynihan and Paul Brittain, as well as the Governator himself. Arnie is superbly let loose, almost a facsimile of Samuel L Jackson’s character in last year’s The Hitman’s Bodyguard, but somehow just a little more delightful.
The script is Killam’s only real issue. There is certainly a lot of comedy to be mined from the host of freaks joining the team: an ex-extremist with a robot arm prone to running out of power; a man equipped only with tiny vials of poison; and a brother and sister obsessed with Mickey Mouse, to name just a few. But these set-ups are not used to their full potential. Only approximately 50% of the recurring jokes land, and there are full sections of the film that stagnate. Far too much focus is given to a romantic subplot that fizzles out rather than developing, and time is wasted on supporting characters that give us nothing to laugh at.
Guest’s blueprint is well and truly in effect here, but there is a nagging feeling that something isn’t quite right. The film lacks any truly funny or memorable moments or lines – no one turns their amp up to 11. Killam has done his homework, but he lands shy of creating something worth multiple viewings. Just as in Guest’s surprisingly awful 2015 Netflix film Mascots, no boundaries are being pushed, the comedy is lazy. Less plot is needed here, along with bigger, less intelligent caricatures. Perhaps what’s missing is a Jim Halpert character from The Office – a normal person placed among the weirdos, giving exasperated looks to the camera to signal how ridiculous a situation is becoming. Then again, perhaps the situation is never ridiculous enough.