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Entries in MacGruber [2010] (1)

Sunday
May232010

MacGruber, 2010

Forced Perspective

I laughed a lot during MacGruber, but I don’t think it’s a good comedy. No, I wasn’t laughing at the movie, either; there were parts that made me giggle, and a whole lot of good will gags that made me smile. But taken as a whole, this film is the very definition of the Saturday-Night-Live-sketch-stretched-too-far picture.

The MacGruber TV sketches are very funny. Each opens in a different perilous location, where MacGruber (Will Forte), his sidekick, Vicki St. Elmo (Kristen Wiig), and that week’s celebrity guest host try to defuse a bomb. The gag is that MacGruber is a bumbling, neurotic version of MacGyver, who uses random household items to save the world; halfway through the operation, MacGruber inevitably stops to give a heartfelt, “If we don’t make it out of here” speech, and the bomb inevitably goes off. Though it’s the same 45-second routine every time, the SNL writers keep upping the comedic ante on MacGruber’s madness—from having him profess his love for his own grandmother to not knowing how to interact with an African American assistant without being racist.

In the big screen version of MacGruber, an evil, politically connected businessman named Dieter Von Cunth (Val Kilmer) has stolen a Russian warhead and plans to blow up Washington during the State of the Union Address. The Pentagon sends for MacGruber, the most decorated war hero in the history of the country and Cunth’s former best friend/rival. The problem is that MacGruber retired ten years ago, after Cunth blew up his wife at their wedding. Following a traumatic revenge dream and some prodding from his old friend, Col. James Faith (Powers Boothe), MacGruber resurfaces, ready to take down the bad guys.

The rest of the movie is a series of action movie setups and payoffs straight out of the 1980s. MacGruber assembles the old team of kill-happy mercenaries to take down Cunth. When that doesn’t work out, he enlists Vicki and straight-laced Lt. Dixon Piper (Ryan Phillippe) to help him intercept nuclear codes, infiltrate a party at Cunth’s house, and bust into an underground lair to disarm the missle.

Perhaps this movie would have worked in a world devoid of trailers, The Naked Gun series, and Ben Stiller’s archetypical clueless macho asshole character—or, for that matter, the Weird Al Yankovich classic, UHF. MacGruber aims to be an homage to/parody of 80s action movies—the problem is that the idea is no longer novel. If you watch the movies mentioned above, or pay attention to Stiller’s performances in Dodgeball and Tropic Thunder, you will have no reason to see this film (at least, not in theatres). MacGruber treads the same, tired ground with only a few new comments on the 80s action genre—and those bits are captured in the trailers.

Screenwriters Forte, John Solomon and Jorma Taccone try to make up for their lack of originality by infusing lots and lots and lots (and lots) of gratuitous swearing and close-ups of man-ass in their picture. And, yes, it’s kind of humorous seeing a guy distract armed guards by dancing around with celery hanging out of his butt; however, the second time it happens feels like the fiftieth—it’s that strained of a gag.

The same can be said for the much-talked-about sex scene between MacGruber and Vicki. What begins as a cute take-off on the soft music/slow motion cheese of movies like Top Gun ends with vigorous real-time thrusting and animal noises. This would have (maybe) been effective had A) it not gone on for about a half-minute too long or B) I hadn’t seen a funnier version in Ace Ventura: Pet Detective sixteen years ago.

I’ll give MacGruber credit for looking like a genuine 80s action film. Taccone, who also directed the film, and cinematographer Brandon Trost have captured the smoky, rainy, blown-out grim and grit of Lethal Weapon and Die Hard perfectly here. One of the running running jokes is that MacGruber is stuck in the 80s—which is strange, considering he didn’t disappear until 1999—and having him run around a film that feels so much like what it’s pretending to be helped me to appreciate the movie as a whole, even when I was frustrated at not digging it more.

Yeah, I know, it’s supposed to be a big, dumb action comedy, but even dumb comedies can be intelligent—the best are. I would love to have seen the writers push for something smarter. For example, there’s a ten-second flashback of MacGruber, Cunth, and MacGruber’s wife in college; Val Kilmer appears, dressed sort of like his Chris Knight character from Real Genius. I think it would have been cool and hilarious to build a flashback around actual footage from Real Genius, cutting MacGruber into the scenes somehow—or, better yet, using cutaways that clearly don’t match.

As I said before, I laughed during MacGruber, but it was more the laughter of recognition: putting the slightest spin on a joke you’ve heard a dozen times can still make you chuckle, but it’s usually because you’re reminded of what was funny about the bit in the first place. I remembered a bunch of MacGruber sketches while watching the movie, and even flashed back to some McBain sketches from The Simpsons.

Sadly, the filmmakers didn’t take the time to construct a solid action comedy. They relied instead on random bits of other, better movies and threw together something that, ultimately, blew up in their faces.