MacGruber (Unrated version, 2010) – Directed by Jorma Taccone – Starring Will Forte, Kristen Wiig, Ryan Phillippe, Powers Boothe, and Val Kilmer.
At some point, someone at Saturday Night Live (which means Lorne Michaels, yes?) decided that “funny” meant “purposely stupid” and not “clever.” That’s not, in and of itself, a bad thing. I’ve certainly laughed at plenty of Adam Sandler and Will Ferrell movies over the years, and guys like Andy Samberg and Tracy Morgan can be funny in small doses, but there’s an annoying overabundance of stupid characters in stupid situations that lack any real intent or bite.
There are blessedly fewer SNL movies these days, which means less struggling attempts to turn a four-minute bit into a 90-minute movie, but I thought MACGRUBER had a chance to actually improve in the extended format rather than worsen because he’s always been a send-up of a longer-formatted character.
There are parts of MACGRUBER that work, but writer/director Jorma Taccone and writer/star Will Forte don’t know what those parts are, and you can tell this because they give you too much of the stupid, loud, and pointless parts of MACGRUBER and not enough of the parts that do, which tend to be the smaller, character bits.
The biggest problem with MACGRUBER is that it doesn’t seem to know where it wants to find its humor. MacGruber is obviously an overt send-up of MacGyver, but there’s barely any MacGyver in this movie. MacGruber seems to want to be a send-up of ’80s action heroes, too, with his insistence on catch phrases and macho posturing, but the film’s attempt to subvert this (which need to be done to make the posturing more funny) fall completely flat. Instead of following through on the macho posturing (like Charlie Sheen did in Hot Shots), MacGruber knows he’s a phony, and his posturing barely keeps a breakdown-in-waiting at bay.
MacGruber is also, at his core, a completely unlikable dick, and Taccone and Forte aren’t even smart or cognizant enough to give the character a likable core to make you want to root for him, and they’re not funny enough to make the character work without it.
Sandler and Ferrell have usually imbued their character’s with either a central core of decency, or made the film about that character’s arc towards decency. There’s a vague attempt to do this in MACGRUBER through the protagonist’s relationship with the Ryan Phillippe’s character, but it’s only an ineffective nod.
Forte is at his best when he tones down the volume but keeps the character’s braggadocio. Entering Val Kilmer’s party (Kilmer plays the villain, Dieter Von Cunth, because saying “Cunth” all movie is hilaaaaaaaarious …) and looking like someone wanting to be on Miami Vice, MacGruber walks in on Cunth playing poker. “He’s bluffing,” he brags to Cunth’s opponent. “I can tell by looking at his beady eyes.”
Cunth is, of course, not bluffing, and when the opponent leaves, Forte offers a sheepish, “Sorry.” It’s funny. It’s playing hit-and-run instead of swinging for the fences, but it works. When the film tries to go big, it fails time and again to deliver any laughs. After MacGruber has been pulled off the case by Powers Boothe, he need Dixon Piper’s (Phillippe’s) help. MacGruber has been a complete dick to Piper through the early parts of the movie, verbally smacking him down at every turn, but now he needs his help to go after Cunth, and so he begs and pleads for what seems like a very SNL-esque “sketch stretched too far” sequence where he promises to perform all sorts of man loving acts on or with Piper.
It’s one of those moments that was probably hilarious when they were acting it out at 3 in the morning, but loses its hilarity in the light of day.
There’s a funny bit during the sex scene between Forte and Kristen Wiig, where it’s shot to look like an ’80s action movie sex scene. They play some cheeseball ’80s melodramatically slow and romantic song and then snap cut, dropping the music completely and replacing that with sounds of MacGruber grunting and thrusting away. It’s funny, but it goes on and on and on. And then they repeat it in the next scene when MacGruber bangs the ghost of his dead wife in a cemetery.
The character of MacGruber ultimately doesn’t work because while the idea to play him as a guy who knows he’s full of crap yet hides it with bluster is a solid idea, it also makes him less funny and less appealing.
Wiig is funny throughout the movie, but the best performance (as it were) belongs to Val Kilmer, who makes the most out of his role as the film’s bad guy.
MACGRUBER isn’t funny but it’s not unwatchable, either. There’s a few big laughs, at least. If that’s damning a movie with faint praise, well, they’ll damn your viewing experience with faint humor.