MacGruber (2010) / Comedy-Action

MPAA Rated: R for strong crude and sexual content, violence, language and some nudity
Running time: 90 min.

Cast: Will Forte, Ryan Phillippe, Val Kilmer, Kristen Wiig, Powers Boothe, Maya Rudolph, Rhys Coiro
Cameo: Chris Jericho, Dalip Singh, Amare Stoudemire

Director: Jorma Taccone
Screenplay: Will Forte, John Solomon, Jorma Taccone
Review published September 11, 2010

An odd choice for a "Saturday Night Live" character to come to the big screen (but aren't they all?), MacGruber is a character created by star Will Forte (Baby Mama, Beerfest) who is, at least in his television portrayal, a spoof of the TV show "MacGyver".  The gag is that MacGruber would choose "clever" ways to diffuse a time bomb situation, often ignoring the obvious solution, always punctuated with a punch line explosion.

The film version of MacGruber differs from his small screen counterpart in that he's supposedly a bad-ass former Green Beret, Navy Seal, and Army Ranger.  He's a cocky jackass soldier of fortune who is feared and admired, though often he bumbles his way to success.  Although he still looks like MacGyver, the film version spoofs action films like Rambo II and Lethal Weapon, and other action TV shows of that era ("A-Team") most of all.  The humor stems from the same style that another successful "SNL"-alum action-comedy series, Austin Powers, with its anything-goes attitude and penchant for crude and sexual humor for the bulk of its big laughs.

The plot involves MacGruber sought out of retirement by his former boss, Colonel James Faith (Boothe, Superman: Brainiac Attacks), in order to take down Dieter Von Cunth (Kilmer, Deja Vu), a bad guy who has stolen a nuclear warhead from the Russians.  Cunth just so happens to be the man responsible for MacGruber's wife being gunned down on their wedding day.  MacGruber forms a team (after he loses his first team in a mishap) consisting of former partner Vicki St, Elmo (Wiig, Walk Hard) and begrudging recruit Lt. Dixon Piper (Phillippe, Breach) to stop Cunth before he can hatch his plan to strike Washington DC with his nuke.

MacGruber is a sporadically funny action spoof, and a close call in terms of garnering a recommendation, but does fall short in two key ways.  One way is in its excess - excessive violence, excessive sex, excessive crude humor.  In many ways, it's most reminiscent of a live-action version of Team America, another irreverent R-rated spoof of formulaic action pics.  One thing that is difficult to reconcile while watching the movie depiction of MacGruber is that, if he is supposed to be the most fearsome American warrior we've ever known, at no time is he shown as being much more than a bumbling ignoramus.  This fact is blatantly obvious to anyone who might talk to him for more than 30 seconds (none of his plans ever work the way they should), and yet they continue to treat him with reverence.  Perhaps Forte and crew thinks this plays better as part of its attempt to spoof Rambo, but it definitely doesn't fit in with the nature of MacGruber as depicted on the TV skit, a spoof on "MacGyver", or in the personality displayed in the movie itself.

Viewers nostalgic for "MacGyver" and some of the action movies of the 1980s that MacGruber semi-spoofs throughout may find themselves heartily chuckling at some of the lampoons.  Those not quite in tune may miss out on some of the gags, but may still enjoy the more modern comedy styles in other capacities, which is to throw in as much envelope-pushing vulgarity, F-bombs, and pop culture references as possible.  Some gags are inspired, such as the dropping of the traditional action film score during montages in order to let us really hear what's going on in the scene.  MacGruber is shown to listen to light rock like Toto and the Doobie Brothers while driving his Mazda Miata around, while his lovemaking sessions are filled with his very un-romantic whinnying and un-sexy bed talk. While a clever movie at times to be sure, these jokes are more like gems to be found within the predictably loud and mostly lame jokes that spin off from the main plot.

The cast is solid, playing the comedy completely straight-faced, even if the situations and dialogue knowingly play to the absurd.  Kilmer's dry demeanor balances out Forte's zanier portrayal well, and Phillippe provides that "everyman" voice of reason to anchor the film, however tenuously, to a sense of perspective on the crazy scenes to suggest that MacGruber's actions truly are bizarre.  In another showcasing of MacGruber's borderline psycho persona, one of the other funny parts involves his inability to let go of a tame insult lobbed at his from someone he doesn't know; it stays in his mind past the initial scene and develops into a full-blown obsession.

Also like many raunchy R-rated joke-a-minute comedies, the result is overkill.  It's difficult to maintain the proper tone to evoke laughs when the violence is pervasively graphic.  For instance, MacGruber's signature "main move" is to rip out the throats of his enemies.  It's amusing the first time it is depicted, as there is an element of surprise at the move, but not when it is repeated a half dozen additional times.  But the rampant tastelessness isn't the main aspect that keeps MacGruber from soaring; it's that inability to keep momentum due to the jarring shifts in the film's styles of humor and unfocused targets of its satire.  It's too much of a "kitchen sink" approach to comedy to ever sustain such a simpleminded storyline in a full-length feature film.  As a result, like many of MacGruber's inventions, they appear to be done on the spot, hurriedly slapped together out of desperation, ending up being duds more often than not.

 Qwipster's rating:

©2010 Vince Leo