After laying dormant and dead to the world for the past decade, uber-spy MacGruber (Will Forte) has been lured back into action by his old mentor, Colonel Faith (Powers Boothe), with the promise of revenge. The target: the slimy Dieter Von Cunth (Val Kilmer), killer of MacGruber's wife-to-be, and supposed owner of an extremely deadly nuclear missile. Armed to the teeth with rubber bands and Q-Tips, and with the reluctant aid of former partner Vicki St. Elmo (Kristen Wiig) and the irritated Lt. Dixon Piper (Ryan Phillippe), MacGruber begins his quest to take down Cunth's organization and save the world.
At the heart of every disappointing big-screen "Saturday Night Live" outing is this basic nugget of wisdom: that the characters in question simply can't be expanded from 3 to 90 minutes without putting serious strain on their comedic foundations. Given that Steve and Doug Butabi hadn't had any dialogue before hitting theaters, there's probably a measure of truth to that statement, but saying that it's fundamentally impossible seems a bit too easy. First of all, I have my suspicions that everyone (myself included) actually kinda likes one of the "SNL" films that isn't The Blues Brothers or Wayne's World (or one of the weird side films like Bob Roberts or Harold), and secondly, why shouldn't the writers of these movies be held entirely accountable for failing to fill the other 87 minutes of an adaptation with interesting material if they're being paid to do it?
There's also another key factor that appears to get overlooked: of a given "Saturday Night Live" audience, I imagine only 30% of the people like a character enough to want to see more of them, and an even smaller fraction of those people would pay money to see that character in a feature-length movie. At the very least, Jorma Taccone seems to understand this part of the equation, and so today, ten years after The Ladies Man graced screens (again, no love for Harold), we have MacGruber, a nutsoid piece of niche entertainment that savors every last drop of its hard-R rating and tries valiantly to take its central character to places that he never would have been able to go on late-night television.
Truth be told, I only see so much "SNL", so my familiarity with Forte is low (I haven't even seen any of the sketches that inspired the movie), but in the few things I've seen him in, I've never found him to be particularly funny. The movie rests firmly on Forte's shoulders, and plenty of the jokes will be sold or unsold based on the viewer's appreciation for his delivery. Taccone, who co-wrote and directed the film, is one-third of the comedy group The Lonely Island (pretty much responsible for all of the best viral bits of "SNL"'s last three years, including the Emmy-winning "Dick in a Box"), while a second member, Akiva Schaffer, is credited as a producer, but the final piece, actor Andy Samberg, is nowhere to be found. I can't help but wonder if some of MacGruber's jokes might have played better with Samberg's super-goofy attitude, but maybe I'm just imagining things.
Either way, Taccone gives plenty of great material to one or two supporting players, in case MacGruber is not enough, and it's one of the film's saving graces. Wiig, as always, gets in a few killer one-liners, but the real star of the show is Val Kilmer, clearly having a ball with ridiculous material. He's only around for so much of the movie, but whenever he's on screen he provides some serious comedic spark that brings Forte and the rest of the movie up with it. When Kilmer is not around, Taccone slathers on a few hilariously unnecessary gore shots and music gags, and the whole rickety contraption chugs along towards the finish line with wild, unruly abandon. I would say that it's kind of like a bomb made out of chewing gum and dental floss, but there actually don't seem to be many shots directed at MacGruber's namesake, which is funny considering Paramount tried to sue over the movie, and too bad, because there's probably a perfect place for a Richard Dean Anderson cameo.
Is MacGruber any better than previous "Saturday Night Live" films? I think it's really in the eye of the beholder. What I will say is that I don't think there's some mythical, elusive formula for stretching a sketch character into a feature-length film, and all audiences want to see is good comedic bits. MacGruber has several of them. There's plenty of stuff that doesn't work, too, but at least Taccone and company have made something a bit more savvy about the extremely small scope of its intended audience. See it for Kilmer, and the chance to see an "upper decker" explained to an audience of unexpecting people. I don't know if that's progress, per se, but I laughed.
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