Film Review – MacGruber

There are many reasons why MacGruber shouldn’t work.  It’s a Saturday Night Live spin-off movie, the original skits were parodies of a TV show that ended in the early 90s, and every minute long skit ended with the main character being blown up.  But in spite of those seemingly insurmountable odds, MacGruber ends up being an extremely funny movie that easily sustains itself for 90 minutes.

For the last 10 years former special op MacGruber (Will Forte) has been living peacefully in an Ecuadorian Monastery.  He’s lived in seclusion ever since his fiancée was killed by his arch nemesis Dieter Von Cunth (Val Kilmer) on their wedding day.  But when Cunth steals a nuclear warhead with intent to launch it against Washington DC, the government knows that the only way they can stop him is to call MacGruber back into active duty.

Backing up MacGruber are his former teammate Vicki St. Elmo (Kristen Wiig) and rookie Dixon Piper (Ryan Phillippe), who MacGruber hates just because he’s never been in the shit before.  These three form an unlikely dream team and head out on a mission to pound some Cunth.

When you look at that synopsis, it doesn’t sound exactly like what you’d expect from a lowbrow spoof of MacGyver. If you put someone like Chuck Norris in the lead role, you’d have any number of 80s action movies.  And that’s exactly the tone that the makers of MacGruber go for.  But instead of an unstoppable bearded action hero, they give us a guy with a mullet who’s full of himself in spite of his incredible lack of skill and intelligence.

For a character that previously existed in only a few minute long skits, MacGruber easily entertains enough to keep you engaged during his feature film debut.  You never really get the sense of him as a real person or get some deep character development, but that’s not the movie’s MO.  It just wants you to laugh at someone who’s so convinced that he’s the best person on the planet at everything (be that making homemade weapons, ripping out throats, or lovemaking) that he can’t realize that he’s also maybe the worst.  Will Forte is an acquired taste, but he really owns the movie and the part.  I’m definitely interested in seeing what he does after this, whether it’s more in the same positive direction or back to dreck like The Brothers Solomon.

The other actors all do a good job, but the big laughs are reserved for Forte and in the end they’re just back-up.  Ryan Phillipe hasn’t really been in any comedies prior to this, but he’s great as the straight-man reacting to MacGruber’s shenanigans.  Kristen Wiig reprises her role from the MacGruber shorts as another former special op who long ago gave MacGruber her heart.  Wiig is funny, but the character is the least interesting of the main three so she just goes back to the same shtick she always does when the script leaves her without much to do.  Val Kilmer is clearly having a great time as the evil mastermind, finally showing off those comedic chops he nurtured back in the 80s with Top Secret! and Real Genius. Throw in appearances by Powers Booth, Maya Rudolph, and no less than six WWE wrestlers and you have one of the more unique casts in recent comedy memory.

Keeping all of this chaos in line is first-time director Jorma Taccone.  Taccone (who also co-wrote the film with Forte and John Solomon) is one of the masterminds behind the popular SNL Digital Shorts which have been one of the few bright spots in recent Saturday Night Live history.  He gets good mileage out of his 80s action milieu and stages some great comedic set-pieces.  The best involve a spin on the typical movie sex scene and the lengths with which MacGruber will go to get revenge on someone for making fun of his dated look.  He also lets the movie be unabashedly R rated with some good gross-out gags and the extremely crude MacGruber offending most anyone he talks to.

The movie isn’t perfect, but that’s usually what happens when you aim for consistent laughs with no depth or character development to hang them on.  The fact that MacGruber is anything less than a disaster is a sort of mini-miracle pulled off by the cast and crew.  The premise and previews made it out to be the next It’s Pat, a misguided attempt to cash-in on a nominal Saturday Night Live success that could only exist in one minute nuggets.  But luckily for us, the movie ends up being the best spin-off to come from SNL since the original Wayne’s World and one of the funniest movies of the last year.


John is the co-host of The Macguffin Podcast, lover of 80s teen and horror films, and an independent filmmaker.

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