Director: Yangzom Brauen
Cast: Melanie Winiger, Max Loong, Ernest Hausmann, Jordan Carver, Gerold Wunstel and Carlos Leal
Plot: Two screenwriters (Winiger, Loong) try to come up with their latest script idea while their flat becomes a centre of chaos and mayhem, including the murder of Johnny Depp.
Independent comedies, especially those written mostly in a foreign language (in this case, German), can be a mixed bag. Who Killed Johnny definitely will go either way with the audience. Right from the off, it seems intent on throwing the audience totally out of the loop. The movie opens with a gruesome murder, only for the dead girl to make a reappearance in the very next scene, sarcastically humiliating her flat mate. While this occurrence does make sense soon after, there are several more moments that will most likely confuse the viewer. Characters are introduced out of the blue and the movie takes them in its stride. An eccentric German figure, known as Hasso, has his own montage sequence that has no effect on the rest of the film. Some people will walk away from this movie, still wondering what the hell they just watched.
Others will totally understand where Yangzom Brauen is getting at. This is a film, dissecting the lives of two hopeful Swiss screenwriters and giving a truthful portrayal of the craziness of a writer’s meeting. On one hand, the comedy is very straight with the cynical Melanie (Winiger is a joy to watch whether she is acting in English or her native tongue), and energetic Max (Loong provides a great source of humour to the movie), bouncing insults off of each other. These scenes are often exactly what you expected from the material. Two funny comedians parodying the script-writing process, as we see montages of each new draft of the script. It is witty, insightful and creative. However, on the other hand, there is a totally different angle of comedy always a few frames around the corner. A few minutes in and two bizarre characters (Jumbo, a German LMFAO lookalike and his girlfriend, Gudrun, gorgeous and with a chest that is almost anatomically illogical), make an appearance. Their arrival is only briefly explained and they proceed to go outside to use the lead characters’ swimming pool. Cue several jump cuts to Jumbo swimming like a cat in water for the very first time. It is all very random and works to alienate the audience. You are just about keeping up with the speed and frantic pacing of the story, when a totally random gag is thrown into the pot. However, in my head, this is a clever piece of direction from the writing team. Brauen has successfully created a cinematic representation of the mind of a writer. Crazy ideas are thrown into the pot and, as Melanie points out during a nasty case of writer’s block, their real lives could be a great source of inspiration. Besides, when one of them suggests a slightly outside-the-box story development, can it really be any crazier than the fact a random Irishman, sprouting Shakespeare and drinking their wine, has just wandered into their house in the middle of the night?
Yet perhaps it is a little too crazy. A lot of the jokes work really well and this is a very funny film, but as a film that is mocking its own structure, perhaps it doesn’t drift as well as you want it to. Take the whole Johnny Depp angle. Halfway through the film, everyone in the house realises that the famous actor has just been run over outside. Suddenly, we are given an actual plot to focus on. However, the entire story around the dead actor serves only as a means to get the second act flowing. While it builds more on the actual story, it isn’t quite the centre of events as the movie title seems to suggest. Saying that, this angle does lead to a fantastic sequence where the writers try to squeeze the dead body into as many scenes as possible. Watching the characters trying to make this corpse as lifelike as possible is relatively amusing, reminding me of other film-making comedies, like Bowfinger. We are still left with that lack of control over the madness of everything. With this many ideas in the pot, not everything works and Who Killed Johnny comes across as good, but very messy.
Then again, it does end on a high note. The final twenty minutes of this movie show the writers finally getting around to filming the first scene of their movie, the one we have seen in its various drafts throughout the film. The action only cuts away for a brief epilogue once this moment begins and the tighter structure really works. Carlos Leal is terrific as the professional actor who thinks he is better than the project itself. Melanie Winiger steps back and just enjoys the whole moment going horrifically wrong. It just all works, the jokes slowly building and rolling into one another. And when that punchline finally hits. I didn’t see it coming and the black comedy is a fantastic way to send off the film. In fact, it suggests that perhaps the next movie from director Brauen could try to focus on a more straightforward style of comedy, as if it can be as good as the final scene here, then I would be willing to watch it.
Final Verdict: A little bizarre, but the jokes keep it together. The finale is a fantastic display of comedy writing.