MacGruber Review

Just like with The Simpsons, there’s a line dividing audiences when it comes to Saturday Night Live. Is it still funny? Are its glory days behind it? Or has the show finally come into its own? Still others think it’s never been funny. Whatever your opinion, the movies that have stemmed from SNL are just as mixed. The Coneheads, Wayne’s World, its sequel, A Night at the Roxbury, Superstar, Ladies Man, It’s Pat, The Blues Brothers (and its god awful sequel), and now MacGruber are part of a dubious history of filmmaking. While often critically panned (since The Blues Brothers and Wayne’s World, no SNL film has reached above a 60% at RottenTomatoes), their box office performances are even worse. It certainly lends some credibility to the idea that SNL’s best days are far behind it. So what of MacGruber? Does it fit within the current pattern of critical and box office failure? Yes and yes.

It won’t take a genius to figure out, even without having seen the skit on SNL, that MacGruber is a parody of the hit TV show MacGyver, wherein the titular hero saves the day using a genius combination of innocuous items to construct some incredibly tool. What made the SNL skit even somewhat decent was the inevitable death of MacGruber due to his incompetence. That was the big punch line of the skit: he had none of the skills of MacGyver despite getting into all the similar situations. Funny-ish. Thus, you’d think, when turning the skit into a movie that you’d carry over the one concept that made the original such a success: the death.

Nope.

MacGruber (Will Forte) retired from the military heroics business long ago and lives in a satirical similarity to Rambo in a Mexican monastery. When Dieter Von Cunth (Val Kilmer), who killed MacGruber’s wife (Maya Rudolph) on their wedding day, steals a nuclear warhead, the US military brings MacGruber out of retirement. After MacGruber puts together and then disbands (in a manner of speaking) a team of hardened soldiers to go after the terrorist, he is then paired up with Lt. Dixon Piper (Ryan Phillippe) and longtime friend (and romantic interest), Vicki St. Elmo (Kristen Wiig). It’s a simple story, with easy cut-out characters that serve as decent caricatures of corny 80s action films.

Everything the film needed to succeed has been tossed out the window. The running joke that made the skit popular? Gone. Decent direction? Gone. Funny writing? Gone. We get it SNL, without The Lonely Island’s digital shorts you’d be totally irrelevant. Pop culture knew that before you did, but that’s no reason to give over direction of the entire film to Jorma Taccone. He writes funny skits and songs, but he created a movie that misses most of its comedy beats through bad timing. There are some funny moments inherently in the writing, assuming you think a stalk of celery up someone’s behind is uproarious, but for this skit-turned-movie to have worked at all, the jokes needed to have come fast and easy. Instead getting a funny joke out of the proceedings is like pulling teeth, relying mainly on a few gross-out moments that might make you laugh in spite of yourself, but if measured against those found in Team America: World Police, even in that field MacGruber doesn’t have a chance.

Where MacGruber does deliver is in the cast. Will Forte doesn’t have a great track record thus far as a leading man in films (anyone see The Solomon Brothers?), but he proves here that even with awful material, he can dish out a performance that will at least inspire a grin here and there. Kristen Wiig, perhaps the only consistent reason to watch SNL these days, does her best in MacGruber but her character never gets much in the way of decent screen time. Her one great scene (a freak out in a Starbucks) is overshadowed by a ho-hum remainder of the film. Ryan Phillippe and Val Kilmer aren’t usually seen as comedy actors, but both prove themselves more than capable of some funny turns.

MacGruber needed to be much funnier than it is. The skit was a paper thin premise to start with, and by stretching it further with weak direction and mediocre writing, the performances have nothing to stand on. SNL films continue their trend of mediocrity.

"MacGruber" opens May 21, 2010 and is rated R. Action, Comedy. Directed by Jorma Taccone. Written by Will Forte, John Solomon, Jorma Taccone. Starring Kristen Wiig, Powers Boothe, Ryan Phillipe, Val Kilmer, Will Forte, Maya Rudolph, Rhys Coiro.

May
22
2010
Lex Walker • Editor

He's a TV junkie with a penchant for watching the same movie six times in one sitting. If you really want to understand him you need to have grown up on Sgt. Bilko, Alien, Jurassic Park and Five Easy Pieces playing in an infinite loop. Recommend something to him - he'll watch it.

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