This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.
Phil’s review published on Letterboxd :
This review may contain spoilers.
So this movie came outta nowhere for me. Apparently it was released straight to video on demand, and later got a limited theatrical release. Heck even the films poster looks like a fan job. Little bit misleading too I think, seeing as the titular Schwarzenegger isn't really in the film until the very end.
So what we have here is essentially an action comedy but with a mockumentary twist. A group of assassins led by Blake (Taran Killam) wants to eliminate the top assassin in the business, Gunther (Schwarzenegger). Each assassin has their own reasons for this but Blake simply wants to be the top assassin in the biz. Because Blake is somewhat eccentric and narcissistic he hires a documentary team to follow and document his team in their mission to kill Gunther. Put plainly, in my humble view, this is 'What We Do in the Shadows' but with assassins instead of vampires, concept wise. Although there is a musical score playing throughout, which makes no sense but whatever.
Admittedly at first I was getting a bit sceptical about the whole idea mainly because it instantly comes across like a clone of said New Zealand horror comedy. But the introduction of the over the top, stereotypical characters won me over. Firstly the leader Blake is the Bond-esque/Kingsman-esque gentleman type who dresses in a suit with a dapper hairstyle. Next is Donnie (Bobby Moynihan), an over enthusiastic, overweight, bumbling all-American trying his best to showcase himself as a good assassin. He often mugs to the camera. Next we have the token sexy femme fatale of the group, Sanaa (Hannah Simone). The daughter of a legendary Muslim assassin who is possibly the most skilled team member, but can't shake off her overprotective father.
Yong (Aaron Yoo) is a Chinese (I think) assassin with a penchant for poisons, but not guns or blood. Gabe (Paul Brittain) is the youngest on the team, merely a teenager by the looks of it. He is the tech expert, anything computers, or so he says. Izzat (Amir Talai) used to be an Islamic extremist but has since moved away from that and is now wanting to earn a reputation as an assassin. His other specialty is the fact he has a robotic arm that can crush pretty much anything. He lost it helping another extremist with his suicide bomb. And lastly Mia and Barold (Allison Tolman and Ryan Gaul), Russian siblings and thugs.
Now despite the mockumentary premise being old hat these days, it never fails to raise a smile (I think). If you think of all mockumentaries, in general they're all pretty good, if not classics. So essentially you kinda know what to expect comedy wise from the outset, but its still admittedly funny. Obviously with this movie its all gonna be send-ups of the espionage/action genre. I'm sure you know what movies I'm referring to.
Whilst all the humour isn't brilliant there are some nuggets of goodness to be found. After an encounter with Gunther the team review the footage that was captured by Blake's documentary team (yes the documentary team are also involved in this). Gabe the tech guy hooks it all up and they scan the footage. They find a shot of Gunther and pause it, Blake orders Gabe to enhance the image. Gabe looks at Blake puzzled and says he can't do that, computers don't do that. What follows is an argument about how everyone has seen that done on TV and in films so it must be a thing.
When the team goes to collect weapons from a secret arms dealer, the guy turns out to be this really nice, almost camp chap who just happens to look like a butch biker. Cliched and unoriginal but the whole scene works nicely. Then there are lots of little moments such as watching Donnie trying to slide over the top of a cars bonnet only to fall on his face. 'Just erase that' he says to the camera after climbing off the car. Donnie is probably the funniest guy in the film for me with his physique and mannerisms. He's always trying to be cool, like a character from an action movie. When he's gonna flick the switch to blow some dynamite he looks into the camera and says 'boom goes the dynamite' with a smug wink and grin. Of course the bomb fails to go off. Then you've also got Yong who carries tiny bottles of poison around with him...and throws them at people...in gun fights.
This actually felt more like I was watching an action packed episode of 'The Office' more than anything. The movie has all those exact beats, tropes and cliches. The movie does have a nice twist of sorts in the latter half as we find out that Gunther is doing exactly the same thing as Blake (with a documentary team); but he's doing it to expose how inept Blake and his team are. Everything that happened during the movie was all setup by Gunther; although much suspension of disbelief is required for that. Nothing is genuinely explained properly, its all very tongue and cheek. Just run with it, type of thing.
I think the movies biggest issue is the fact that there are too many characters and not all get enough time to shine. You could of easily left out a few of them, like the Russian siblings. The other issue is none of them grow as characters, they all remain the same stereotypical doofuses as they started out. Although I thought Donnie having to convert to Islam in order to marry Sanaa (under threat of death from her overprotective father) was quite funny. But by the end the plot gets more contrived and stupid as they quickly try to wrap things up neatly. The fact that Gunther apparently doesn't die is also something of an ugh! moment.
I liked the found footage style of the movie, I think its works surprisingly well here. Its not the best mockumentary there is but I thought it was a solid comedy with much to offer. Certainly a much appreciated slightly new angle for the now overcrowded espionage genre. Yes its all very dumb, not very sophisticated, hardly subtle, and very meta. But after a slow and uncertain start I got into this.