The best SNL sketch adaptation since Wayne’s World
There’s a tremendous misnomer with the statement that MacGruber is the best SNL sketch adaptation since Wayne’s World because outside of that film, and The Blues Brothers, every other film based off an SNL sketch has been decidedly awful. So by being awful (as opposed to disastrously awful) which is what MacGruber essentially does, is an achievement in and of itself. It’s akin to being a failed American Idol contestant amongst a group of glee club rejects; it looks better in comparison.
Based off the sketch of the same name, Will Forte dons a mullet as the titular character. A spoof of the formerly popular show MacGyver, MacGruber comes from a position of strength. MacGruber doesn’t have a background or a history to draw from. As such the film starts from scratch and gives Forte a background to work with, as opposed to Kristen Wiig (reprising her role as Vickie St. Elmo, MacGruber’s assistant) and a revolving guest host from Saturday Night Live. MacGruber is a former superspy of sorts, achieving the highest honors in multiple military branches, when Dieter Von Cunth (Val Kilmer) kills his wife (Maya Rudolph) and MacGruber is content to let the world think he’s dead as well. When Von Cunth gets his hands on a nuclear weapon, it’s up to MacGruber, St. Elmo and straight-laced partner Lt. Dixon Piper (Ryan Phillippe) assigned to him by Colonel James Faith (Powers Boothe in a role that Richard Crenna would’ve been in 30 years ago) in charge of the mission.
The film revolves around MacGruber and his team’s attempt at finding the weapon and implicating Von Cunth, or to be more accurate MacGruber’s spectacular failings at doing so. Parodying ‘80s action films featuring mismatched buddy combinations, MacGruber isn’t quite an R-rated film. With an excessive amount of action and heaping doses of profanity, it captures the spirit of the era and tries to be a parody of the excesses of that era while also being great film from that era. But the problem is that it’s not funny.
The film seems to think that the more presence of profanity is guaranteed hilarity; take away the profanity and a certain scene involving celery and this is a PG-13 rated film. There’s more envelope pushing material in Borat than in this film. There are some good jokes throughout the film but there are large parts of the film that fall flat because it keeps trying to sell a particular joke that isn’t working. In particular the sex scenes seem to be a good idea on paper but don’t translate well, especially considering both of them are back-to-back and feature the exact same joke set. It doesn’t work the first time and remarkably boring the second time. That seems to be a running motif throughout the film; repeated jokes that aren’t funny that are beaten into the ground relentlessly.
MacGruber manages to get plenty of laughs from two unlikely sources: Val Kilmer and Ryan Phillippe. Kilmer was an actor in that era, rising to prominence because of Top Gun, and as such knows exactly the type of villain he’s meant to be spoofing. It’s a measured, controlled performance in the face of an over the top farce of a film. Phillippe has a thankless role as the partner that he unwittingly steals the film almost completely out from Will Forte. By playing everything as if it was a serious drama it gives Forte room to operate zealously.
If this film wasn’t associated with Saturday Night Live it would be PG-13 film masquerading as an R-rated film based solely on some foul language in the same way Miss March felt like a PG-13 sex comedy sprinkled with just enough foul language to give it an R-rating. MacGruber is only elevated because of the past stench of Saturday Night Live. Merely being slightly funny when compared to the laugh free Night at the Roxbury doesn’t qualify it as a comedy masterpiece.
Director: Jorma Taccone Notable Cast: Will Forte, Maya Rudolph, Kristen Wiig, Ryan Phillippe, Val Kilmer, Powers Boothe Writer(s): Jorma Taccone, Will Forte and John Solomon based off the Saturday Night Live sketch “MacGruber”
Scott Sawitz is an Inside Pulse original. He's also been featured on The Ultimate Fighter.com, Fox Sports.com, Nerdcore Movement.com, CagePotato.com, Inside Fights.com and Film Arcade.net (among others). When Scott isn't writing about film he's making his own. Check out Drunk Justice Productions right here.