Killing Gunther (2017)

Directed by Taran Killam

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In Killing Gunther a team of delusional assassins try to kill one of the best in their field, Gunther.  He will be a mythical figure who shows up for only a few frames for a second, often in motion or very far away.  He might as well be a ghost, though he will show up in the third act in a wonderful bit of casting which makes you only wish he was around longer.

Taran Killam plays Blake, a petulant, heartbroken assassin whose reasons for setting his sights on Gunther (and hiring a video crew to document it) turn out to be as simple as he felt rejected.  There is plenty of comedy drawn from such a dynamic, following this self-centered, ego-bloated, tiny man through all this insanity.  He looks like James Bond on the surface, but he’s more like an Alexander Payne character after you peel back a layer or two.

The movie as a whole is silly and enjoyable, but it does sometimes drag on a little long (even at only 90 minutes), and the countless digital blood spatters only make this feel like a longer Funny or Die sketch.

All that being said, there are jokes that work here.  I mean I like scoffing and turning my nose up at things just as much as the next guy, but Killing Gunther is fun and loose, and for some reason I really enjoy movies that take aim (no pun intended) at self-involved narcissists, like Blake.

He’s a character you can see growing up with everything going in his favor.  He received plenty of pats on the back, participation ribbons and was probably given every possible tutor to help him barely get by in his exorbitantly-priced private school.  This is a character who is so out of touch with the real world and so far from feeling any kind of relatable anguish that he has resorted to killing people for money.

I’m not sure if I’m looking too far into it, but Blake is an amusing character because of how much of a psychopath he is.  Well they’re all the psychopaths, this whole crew.  The joke, of course, is that they’re assassins, but they’re not like assassins we typically see in movies.  They aren’t the Jack Reachers, the Professional Leons, that George Clooney character in The American, etc.  Where those characters may have been silent and certainly brooding, these characters can’t shut up.

They are played by comedians like Bobby Moynihan, Hannah Simone, Paul Brittain, etc.  Allison Tolman (from the tv show Fargo) turns up too, and with the others she gets a lot to work with.  The broader their characters, in this case, the more the movie seemed to say about entitlement.

Blake’s ego will not go unchecked.  At first, as comedies do, he will fall flat on his face, his best laid plans running into unforeseen problems.  The joke of each of these scenes relies on the heightening of his own ego.

Later on he will have his flaws, which he fails to notice, pointed out to him by friends and his documentary crew.  That’s when we learn that he really wants to kill Gunther because he and his ex-girlfriend, Lisa (Cobie Smulders) once got together.  It’s a purposefully petty motivation for him to go to such great lengths to kill the legendary assassin, but it’s not the only reason.

We eventually meet Gunther, of course, and the surprise of casting Arnold Schwarzenegger never stood much of a chance of lasting because he’s marketed on every promotional item for the film.  If you have Schwarzenegger in your movie, understandably, you’re going to let audiences know.

As Gunther, Schwarzenegger has more to do here than just look intimidating.  He carries a lot of weight into the role because of what we associate with him.  He’s the Terminator, he hunted the Predator, he went to Mars and nearly had his face blown up, and he was the Terminator again.  He’s as mythical to us as he is to the characters onscreen, so that worked perfectly.

Gunther will do that whole thing where the antagonist lays out his overarching plan to the hero in a long monologue, but in this case he makes a few good points.  Gunther, who has indeed been a step ahead of this crew the entire time, has hired his own documentary crew and revels in making fools of the very, very foolish main cast of characters.  He also points out that it’s quite silly of Blake to want to take down Gunther and thus be the best.  Does he realize how many years it took Gunther to become the best?  It’s something you earn over time, not something you can just grab out of thin air, and it seems a perfect summation of a lot of the problems of a younger generation that does seem to demand attention for the smallest victories.

Now, I’m not here to criticize millennials, even if I have been.  I am a millennial, and I’m putting words onto the internet for people to consume (thanks for reading, if you’ve made it this far).  I recognize in myself that need for attention, and I don’t really like it.  That being said that’s more a projection of myself, one I place onto the world and an occasional filter through which I see things.  It’s me feeling this kind of negativity.

I also know that it’s not entirely a bad thing.  Blake is a silly character who, despite his selfishness and self-grandiosity, is certainly hard working.  Early in the movie, as he assembles his crew and stands on a soap box he is not unlike Tommy Wiseau (as played by James Franco) in The Disaster Artist.  He’s a character with what he perceives to be grand intentions and a delusion that he can pull it off.

There’s an enviable “go get ’em” attitude to such a thing, and the delusion and noble ambitions is all a part of that, blended together, inseparable.  For some reason I just really liked the balance this movie struck between holding Blake accountable (he doesn’t learn from his mistakes) and celebrating his single-mindedness, to some degree.

He’s someone to appreciate and judge from afar but someone with whom it would be hard to hold a conversation.

Up Next: Brewster McCloud (1970), Best of 2018, Spaceballs (1987)

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