Saturday, December 30, 2017

On Blu-ray/DVD: KILLING GUNTHER (2017) and MAYHEM (2017)

(US/UK/China - 2017)

Following his BROTHER NATURE triumph, former SNL star Taran Killam wrote, directed, and stars in the straight-to-VOD KILLING GUNTHER, a dismal, would-be Christopher Guest mockumentary about a camera crew following a team of hired killers as they join forces to take out Gunther Bendik, the world's deadliest and most elusive assassin. In other words, if you ever thought "You know, SMOKIN' ACES was OK, but I'd like to see it in BEST IN SHOW form," then here's your movie. The first hour slogs by with maybe one remotely inventive moment that will be completely lost on any viewers outside of Canada (a drunk karaoke take on Lawrence Gowan's 1985 hit "A Criminal Mind") as hit man Blake Hammon (Killam) assembles the crack team to help him kill Gunther: there's explosives expert Donald Piznowski (Killam's SNL pal Bobby Moynihan); sniper Sanaa "Little Nightmare" Fairouza (NEW GIRL's Hannah Simone); her overprotective father Rahmat "The Nightmare" Fairouza (Peter Kelamis); genius dweeb hacker Gabe "The Human Computer" Beales (Paul Brittain, who had a very brief SNL stint several years ago); mechanical-handed Izzat "Crusher" Bukhari (Amir Talai); chronically-vomiting "Master of Poisons" Pak Yong Qi (Aaron Yoo); and unhinged Russian siblings Mia (FARGO's Allison Tolman) and Barold Bellakalakova (SUPERSTORE's Ryan Gaul). Gunther always seems to be one step ahead of them, often sabotaging their plans and playing head games and practical jokes, such as blowing up the casket at the funeral of Blake's 104-year-old mentor Ashley (Aubrey Sixto). Also peripherally involved is Blake's ex-girlfriend, retired hit woman Lisa McCulla (Killam's wife Cobie Smulders), who hooked up with Gunther following the breakup, which is ultimately revealed to be the sole reason heartbroken Blake is obsessed with hunting him down.

KILLING GUNTHER is a near-laughless miasma of tired jokes (watch Moynihan attempt at T.J. HOOKER hood slide!), shameless mugging (almost every moment Killam is front and center), lazy references that are supposed to be funny just because of nostalgia (Moynihan doing a karaoke version of Sister Hazel's "All for You"), and bush-league CGI explosions and splatter. He was funny and versatile on SNL, but the last thing the world needed was a self-indulgent Taran Killam vanity project, and the only thing that saves KILLING GUNTHER from complete ruin is the belated arrival of Arnold Schwarzenegger as Gunther. Top-billed on the poster, Arnold doesn't even appear until 70 minutes in (the closing credits roll at 85 minutes) but he immediately injects life into the dreary proceedings as it's revealed Gunther has assembled his own camera crew to make a documentary about Blake's documentary. Arnold has some self-deprecating fun, gets to crack a few almost-quotable zingers ("Those fucking dickholes!" and "My cappuccino is to die for!"), and even sings a twangy ditty called "Earthquake Love" under Gunther's country music alter ego "Cord Billmont." Unfortunately, his too-little, too-late third-act comedy heroics aren't enough to make KILLING GUNTHER worth a damn to anyone other than the most devout Schwarzenegger completists after they've skipped the first hour. (R, 93 mins)

(US - 2017)

An overbearing splatter satire on cutthroat office politics, MAYHEM got some of the best reviews of any genre title this year, but in the end, it's obvious, obnoxious, overrated, and far too pleased with itself in the same way that most prefab cult movies are. Combining elements of OFFICE SPACE and 28 DAYS LATER, MAYHEM takes place over one long day at the corporate headquarters of the legal behemoth Towers & Smythe Consulting, where the secret mission statement is "greed, duplicity, and moral decay" according to ambitious lawyer Derek Cho (Steven Yeun, formerly Glenn on THE WALKING DEAD). Derek wants to make it to the top, and he gets a big boost after concocting a legal defense for "redders," those infected by a rage virus that turns them into red-eyed, homicidal maniacs who, thanks to Derek, can't be held accountable for their actions. "I wanted the corner office, and for my sins, they gave me one," explains apparent APOCALYPSE NOW fan Derek. But today is not Derek's day, as shit rolls downhill and the powers that be way up the ladder have decided to scapegoat him in a botched case on which he didn't even work. Cokehead CEO Towers (Steven Brand as Sean Pertwee) won't even see him, instead delegating Derek's immediate termination to bitch-on-wheels underling Kara "The Siren" Powell (Caroline Chikezie) and emotionless HR automaton Lester "The Reaper" McGill (Dallas Roberts). On his way to being escorted out, Derek finds the building under quarantine after traces of the "redder" virus are found in the ventilation system and will take eight hours to dissipate. So begins one long work day of everyone falling victim to the virus, which triggers a breakdown of moral barriers (not to mention narrative coherence), unleashing uncontrolled anger, depression, fear, and lust that's accelerated by things like caffeine and antidepressants. Glenn is determined to make it to the top floor (symbolism!) and expose Towers and the equally devious Smythe (Kerry Fox, who starred in Jane Campion's AN ANGEL AT MY TABLE and Danny Boyle's SHALLOW GRAVE in better days) for their lies and corruption. He gets help from Melanie Cross (Samara Weaving), who happened to be stuck in the building trying to get the foreclosure of her home reversed, as they arm themselves with power tools, buzzsaws, and nail guns to fight their way through the redder-infested building.

MAYHEM was directed by Joe Lynch, an indie-horror darling of the HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN generation whose previous credits include a segment of the anthology throwback CHILLERAMA and the terrible Salma Hayek actioner EVERLY. Like too many of his contemporaries, Lynch and many of his contemporaries specialize in genre films that are created under the assumption that they're already cult classics right out of the gate. MAYHEM spends far too much time on boring office backstabbing and by the time the titular brouhaha begins, it's just a lot of yelling, screaming, and over-the-top violence. Nothing in MAYHEM is particularly humorous, and its observations on getting ahead in the workplace and being successful aren't exactly insightful ("I didn't have a job...my job had me" sighs Derek). There's also the obligatory pandering to the scenesters, from Steve Moore's  '80s-inspired synth score to a major characters's death being accompanied by a really loud Wilhelm Scream guaranteed to elicit fanboy chants of "Gooble gobble, one of us!" The best thing about the film is Weaving (niece of the great Hugo Weaving), who's had a busy 2017 highlighted by the surprisingly entertaining Netflix film THE BABYSITTER. She's a lot of fun in that film and she gives MAYHEM a needed boost every time she's onscreen. Weaving dives into this with spirited gusto and sense of humor (her dismissal of The Dave Matthews Band in favor of Motorhead, D.R.I. and "early Anthrax" is a highlight), compensating for the dumb script and the bland Yeun, so much so that you almost wish she was main star. This thing's currently rocking an 82% on Rotten Tomatoes, but I'm honestly stumped as to why. Call it 28 BELKO EXPERIMENTS LATER and move on. (Unrated, 87 mins)

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