The mockumentary genre has been controversial for some time, now. What Christopher Guest pioneered as a fresh, innovative take on comedy has shifted over the years and is now the go-to method of lazily making a sitcom seem more credible and intelligent than it actually is.
As a result, at this point, Killing Gunther comes across a bit like a dying gasp, but in its defence, it’s actually a rare example of a mockumentary where the format is both justified and genuinely adds to the proceedings.
The film presents itself as a documentary assembled from footage shot following Blake, a hitman in the mold of a government secret agent and portrayed by Taran Killam, who also writes and makes his directorial debut. Having hired a cameraman to film his exploits, Blake assembles a team of every movie hitman stereotype imaginable - from an explosives expert to the hardened Russian brother-sister combo - in order to take down Gunther (Arnold Schwarzenegger), the world’s greatest hitman, and settle a variety of personal scores in the process.
The film’s marketing would have you believe that Schwarzenegger is a huge part of the film. It’s difficult to blame a marketing team for doing their job, but Arnie doesn’t make a proper appearance until the third act, and even then, his role is little more than an extended cameo followed by an Executive Producer credit. Still, assuming that he isn’t the only reason you’re watching the film in the first place, there’s plenty of other things to enjoy, here.
The cast also includes Cobie Smulders (How I Met Your Mother) as Blake’s ex-hitman-cum-ex-girlfriend, Hannah Simone (New Girl) as an archetypical femme fatale killer, Allison Tolman (Fargo) as one of the aforementioned Russian siblings, as well as Killam’s fellow Saturday Night Live alumni Bobby Moynihan and Paul Brittain.
Of particular note, the film contains a number of full-blown action sequences, peppered in throughout the usual talking head comedy monologues. The faux documentary format makes these scenes feel all the more impressive and real and they make it more than just another run-of-the-mill doc spoof.
Of course, ultimately, this is the kind of film that lives and dies on its comedy and, sadly, Killing Gunther’s humour is on the weaker end of the scale. That said, whilst it never reaches the hilarious highs that its premise had potential for, it’s still consistently amusing and with one or two laugh-out-loud moments thrown in there.
Your mileage will likely come down to your fondness for the sorts of hitman action movies that are being sent up. Killing Gunther is a very affectionate take on the genre, so it’s much easier to overlook its shortcomings if that happens to be a genre that you’re a fan of.
KILLING GUNTHER / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR & SCREENPLAY: TARAN KILLAM / STARRING: ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER, COBIE SMULDERS, HANNAH SIMONE, ALLISON TOLMAN / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW (US), APRIL 2ND (UK)