MacGruber (United States, 2010)

May 21, 2010
A movie review by James Berardinelli
MacGruber Poster

Saturday Night Live movies generally come in two categories: inspired comedies and woefully inept, borderline-unwatchable dreck. Unsurprisingly, considering the difficulty (not to mention the wisdom) of transforming a five-minute sketch into a 90-minute motion picture, the members of the latter group greatly outnumber those of the former. And, while it would be unfair to saddle MacGruber with the "worst SNL movie of all-time" moniker (I can think of at least two that are more painful to endure), its place on the vaunted 2010 Worst 10 list is assured. MacGruber, a parody of the '80s TV series MacGyver, never aspired to anything more grand than a one-laugh joke during its limited SNL days (with the highlight being a guest appearance by Richard Dean Anderson), and its transition to the big screen left that one laugh behind. Watching this movie, I wished I knew how to use dental floss, a paper clip, and a crumpled movie ticket to break the projector.

The biggest fault attributable to MacGruber is that the writers (SNL scribes Will Forte, John Solomon, Jorma Taccone) mistake profanity for humor. Tossing around f-bombs like punctuation marks does not transform pedestrian dialogue into guffaw-laden material. It's as if, freed from the constraints of NBC, the filmmakers elected to use all the blue language they can't get past the TV censors. And, while rude, raunchy, coarse comedy can at times be very funny (recent examples include 2009's The Hangover and 2010's Get Him to the Greek), merely peppering a screenplay with four-letter words guarantees nothing except an R-rating and a red band trailer. In the case of MacGruber, it highlights the paucity of humor on display. I chuckled three times but didn't come close to a full-bellied laugh. Sitting through MacGruber is like watching a bad SNL sketch that never ends. You keep praying for the commercial break.

MacGruber establishes the title character (reprised by Will Forte) as a retired special ops legend who has been in hiding since being declared dead. Now, his old boss, Colonel James Faith (Powers Boothe in the Richard Crenna role), wants MacGruber to come back to life for one last mission. The mercenary Dieter Von Cunth (Val Kilmer) has stolen a nuclear missile and the only thing preventing him from using it is that he doesn't possess the safety codes. Faith believes MacGruber can keep those passwords from falling into the wrong hands. Also, MacGruber and Cunth have a past - once the best of friends, they were divided by a woman. Assembling a team that includes Lt. Dixon Piper (Ryan Philippe),a straitlaced officer under Faith's command, and the reliable Vicki St. Elmo (Kristin Wiig), MacGruber sets out to complete the task and save the civilized world.

Want an example of what passes for high comedy in MacGruber? Take the villain's name, "Cunth." Say it aloud and assume the final "h" is silent. (When doing so, you might want to make sure you're alone.) That's right: Val Kilmer is playing a Cunt(h). Are you rolling on the floor laughing? I can imagine Beavis and Butthead snickering in the corner: "He said 'cunt'."

Although the most obvious flaw with MacGruber is the disappointingly low laugh quotient, that's not the sole problem. As is the case with many poor action/comedies, this one spends too much time on exposition for a plot that no one in the audience cares about. It's boring and tedious, but incorporating this extraneous material is how the five-minute skit becomes bloated to elephantine proportions. There are nods to the source material (a couple of halfhearted jabs at MacGyver and Wiig doing her countdown), but the movie seems largely unconcerned about its origins. MacGruber came into being because MacGyver's penchant for invention was ripe to be lampooned; it's unclear how anyone thought this could be successfully expanded.

MacGruber does little that's interesting, daring, or surprising - qualities demanded by most good comedy. The target audience would appear to be nine year old boys, who find the frequent repetition of profanity to be hilarious in and of its own right. The gags featuring a naked Forte with a stick of celery up his butt pale in comparison to the more envelope-pushing material from Borat. The comedic aspects of the sex scenes wilt when compared to the Jeff Goldblum/Emma Thompson coupling in The Tall Guy. Wayne's World and The Blues Brothers worked in large part because they played by a "no rules" approach. MacGruber is constrained by conventionality. Take away the stick of celery and the f-bombs and this would be a harmless and boring PG-13 direct-to-video offering.

More often than not, the attachment of Lorne Michaels' name to a motion picture is a warning to move to the next auditorium at the multiplex, even if it's showing something in 3-D and you don't have the glasses. The average SNL episode is too uneven to watch all the way through, making the fast-forward button a mandatory tool. The irony is that, if employed for MacGruber, it would shrink a 90-minute motion picture into a five-minute blur.

MacGruber (United States, 2010)

Director: Jorma Taccone
Cast: Will Forte, Kristin Wiig, Ryan Philippe, Val Kilmer, Powers Boothe, Maya Rudolph
Screenplay: Will Forte & John Solomon & Jorma Taccone
Cinematography: Brandon Trost
Music: Matthew Compton
U.S. Distributor: Universal Pictures
Run Time: 1:30
U.S. Release Date: 2010-05-21
MPAA Rating: "R" (Profanity, Sexual Content, Nudity, Violence)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1