Film Review: Killing Gunther

“Saturday Night Live” alum Taran Killam proves his comedy chops as a director to be almost as potent as that of an ensemble player.
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The path former members of the “Saturday Night Live” cast take after leaving the show has mostly been written in stone for decades. If popular enough, they’ll star in a movie or two, and maybe a few of them will go on to be as big as an Eddie Murphy, Mike Myers or Will Ferrell.

Taran Killam decided to take a decidedly different path post-“SNL” by co-starring in Hamilton on Broadway while also writing, directing and starring in his first feature film.

Killing Gunther uses the “mockumentary” format made famous by Christopher Guest in movies like Best of Show and A Mighty Wind, but in this case the documentary being made is actually a plot point of the movie. The actual film crew becomes a bigger part of the story as it goes along.

Killam plays Blake Harron, an international assassin who wants to assemble a team of hit men to kill the elusive Gunther, the world’s top assassin who no one has ever seen—at least no one still alive. Blake figures if they’re able to kill Gunther, they’ll immediately move up the ranks of hit men. The team he puts together includes explosive “experts” Donny (Bobby Moynihan), technician Gabe (Paul Brittain), Middle Eastern femme fatale Sanaa Fairuza (Hannah Simone from “New Girl”) and others who are even less competent than Donny.

A good portion of the movie’s first half is spent introducing these crazy characters, as they plan ways to find and kill Gunther. Most of their plans fail, in funny ways, because Gunther is a master of disguise, and he’s playing with them the entire time—while also killing them off one by one.

Killam has come up with a fun and clever premise, an ensemble comedy that mostly works due to the interaction of the strange characters, even if not all his cast are able to be comedic and still portray believable characters. For instance, Aaron Yoo’s “poisons expert” Yong is triggered to vomit whenever he sees blood, which in the hit man game is quite frequently. It’s a joke that keeps on giving and getting funnier even though Yoo himself tends to go overboard with the characterization.

Killam has proven over time that he can be very funny, and he helps carry the movie with help from former castmates Brittain and Moynihan, as well as Simone, the latter two finally given film roles that show off their considerable talents. Those four in particular are quite good at playing off one another’s reactions, whereas some of the other cast members seem to be just along for the ride.

Killam’s chops as a director are impressive, not just because he’s wrangling such a large cast of characters but because of his handling of larger set-pieces with lots of things blowing up.

It’s over an hour before Schwarzenegger finally shows up as Gunther. Once he does, he’s hams it up so much he nearly throws Killam’s movie off the rails. While it’s fun watching Schwarzenegger agree to do things far outside his comfort zone, the less said about his singing the better.

Killing Gunther won’t be the comeback Schwarzenegger fans may be hoping for, but there are enough funny moments in Killam’s directorial debut to augur a promising future in film comedy.

Click herefor cast and crew information.