To my absolute greatest shock I will say: after a dry spell, someone was finally able to make a good “Saturday Night Live” movie. All it took was some inspiration, and a guy who is involved with the existence of “Hot Rod.”
It’s funny how one of the funniest “Saturday Night Live” movies has come from what is usually one of the least funny sketches. That might be harsh. “MacGruber” is usually funny with the right guest, but usually they kind of just thud. Maybe because the concept, not the execution, was so rich that they were able to make the movie version of “MacGruber” this good.
“MacGruber” can be defined as a satire that’s tonuge-in-cheek, but is not too showy about it. If you haven’t seen the skits, the titular MacGruber (Will Forte) is a secret agent that’s a riff on MacGyver. Like MacGyver, MacGruber is known for making weapons out of random household objects. However, MacGruber sucks at this. Also, he acts like a huge, pompous jerk to everyone he meets. Once again, his weapons don’t even work.
For some reason though, MacGruber is actually widely revered and feared for his skills. In a Ramboesque opening, MacGruber is forced to come out of hiding to foil the evil plans of Dieter Von Cunth* (Val Kilmer). Slo-mo shootouts and dramatic montages ensue.
In a way, it sounds like I just described a mediocre action film. Well, I was. I was also referring to “MacGruber.” While most directors seem to believe that satire comes through lame mimicry, Jorma Taccone, John Solomon, and Forte know that true satire comes through a mix of imitation and originality. The character of MacGruber is both a satire, and his own separate entity.
“MacGruber” has followed suit of several comedies made in the last few years and managed to bring out the 1980s. I never experienced a single year of the 80s and I used to look at it as kind of a joke, but now it isn’t. “MacGruber” might poke fun at 80s action films, but in a very meta way, it becomes one. The wink is so subtle that you won’t even notice it. I would put it more into the category of “Black Dynamite” rather than “Hot Tub Time Machine.” That’s part of what makes “MacGruber” such a great filmgoing experience: it asks for those with a great eye for cinema.
“MacGruber” seems like an 80s action film in its over-the-top action and even more over-the-top storytelling. In “MacGruber” these two elements are maximized to be both ridiculous and endearing. Mainly ridiculous though.
“MacGruber” allows its hero to embody nothing but the worst of the typical action hero. He has that pompous, bossy personality, but he just isn’t a real hero. He always says he has a plan, but that plan always falls apart. He thinks he can make gadgets with anything he finds, but they always fall apart. MacGruber is essentially one of the least likable comedy characters I’ve seen. Even Austin Powers knew how to shoot a gun.
For those who grew up in this era, “MacGruber” will be seen as a great piece of nostalgia. For those who didn’t, there’s still more than enough humor for anyone to thoroughly enjoy. Since it comes from The Lonely Island team, the humor can best be described as absurdist and extremely awkward. It is visual and very situational. One such example involves a scene in which the always great Kristen Wiig as Vicki St. Elmo tries to order a cup of coffee in a MacGruber disguise. She back tracks, and perfect mumbling awkwardness follows.
Meanwhile, Forte is very obviously taking advantage of the lack of TV censors. “MacGruber” might’ve even pushed some MPAA boundaries in the process. Most of the excessive sex and cursing is not for shock value, or just for the sake of it, but mainly because it is actually made funny.
Forte’s “Saturday Night Live” career might be coming close to an end, but he has true potential in the movies. He could carry the weight of a story for 90 minutes and create a unique character. Everyone else in the cast manages to bring something, even if it is small, to the table. Wiig proves as always that no one does awkward quite like her. Ryan Phillippe does some surprisingly good comedic work making fun of the straight man who does nothing but tell the hero he can’t do whatever he’s doing.
What should be considered something of a career comeback, Kilmer shows that his greatest skill lie in comedy. He both looks and acts like a villain on the level of Hans Gruber, mixed with that bad guy with the pony tail from “Kindergarten Cop.”
While most have been panning it left and right, I feel like “MacGruber” is by far the most enjoyable film I’ve seen this summer. It deserves to be mentioned with the other successful “Saturday Night Live” adaptations: “The Blues Brothers,” and “Wayne’s World.” It wasn’t trying to impress us. It wasn’t hiding any agenda (mainly, a sequel). It’s simply doing what it can to make us laugh. Whether that be in a ridiculously out-of-place car, or an unorthodox use for celery, it worked.
*Note: Yes, I’m aware.