Films based on Saturday Night Live sketches don’t have the greatest track record at the box office. Though Blues Brothers and Wayne‘s World managed to make money, the epic failures of movies like Coneheads, It’s Pat, and Ladies Man turn the skepticism spigot on big time whenever Lorne Michaels gets his money out to try again (for some reason, he ALWAYS tries again). The latest attempt is MacGruber, which is based on a recurring MacGyver spoof sketch of the same name.
The plot summary goes something like this:
When an untouchable very bad guy gets his very bad hands on a very big nuclear weapon, the Army asks a throat ripping, gadget assembling special operative named MacGruber to put a team together and get it back.
The tailers made MacGruber look decently funny, and I usually enjoyed the sketches when they were on, so I took a gamble that the film version would be worth 10 bucks. After all, if it wasn’t, maybe just watching the movie would give me the skills necessary to create a new and better one out of my pocket lint and the soggy popcorn stuck to the floor, MacGruber style.
The MacGruber sketches started in 2007 and have followed the same basic pattern ever since. Will Forte plays a plaid-shirted, mullet-haired, vest-wearing MacGyver type who is stuck in a room with two other people and a bomb that is seconds away from going off. One of these people is a woman from the cast (first it was Maya Rudolph, later Kristen Wiig) and the other is whoever the host happens to be that night. They’re relying on him to save them from the bomb, but in every single instance something (Macgruber’s incompetence, the others’ refusal to comply with his ridiculous requests, etc) gets in the way and the bomb kills them.
MACGRUBER: Quick, give me some of your pubic hair!
MAN: What? No!
The funniest part of the sketch was that it always took place in some sort of control room. If it was a power station, it was the Power Station Control Room. If it was an office building, it was the Office Building Control Room. If it was a boat, it was the Boat Control Room. They showed different exteriors in the establishing shot but it was always the same sign (with the word changed) and the same cinder block room.
Whether or not the type of location in question typically has a “control room” is irrelevant.
Imagine my disappointment when no “Control Room” signs show up during the whole movie! Sure, they MENTION control rooms a few times, and at one point are even inside one, but they lost what was (in my opinion) the funniest part of the sketch. What they did keep was the basic dynamic. Three characters: MacGruber, the woman who believes in and supports MacGruber, and the “straight man” (sometimes woman) who takes issue with MacGruber’s methods. In the full length film, the woman (who is nameless in the sketch) is called Vicky St. Elmo (Kristen Wiig) and the “straight man” is Army Lieutenant Dixon Piper (Ryan Phillippe).
You may notice that these names are ridiculous, and that MacGruber only has a last name.
The point of the sketch was to spoof the old ABC TV show MacGyver, which was about a “hip by 80’s standards” secret agent improbably finagling his way out of trouble by using whatever bits and pieces happened to be lying about (bottle caps, old chewing gum, etc.) In the movie version, the satire gets confused because they try to expand their sights and make fun of the entire 1980s action film genre.
These movies don’t need any help making fun of themselves
Which, of course, is funny for the most part. Picture any Steven Segal movie. Now picture it being made by people who KNOW they’re making something ridiculous. People who are creating garbage under the impression they are contributing something worthwhile to cinema make cheesy movies. People who are creating garbage and know it make spoofs. They hit all the same plot points, but MacGruber pushes the boundaries of reality a little (sometimes a LOT) further in the name of comedy.
Have you seen all the wires in this thing? I’m more of a three wire kind of guy.
Although satirizing the entire genre rather than one TV show gives the writers (Will Forte, John Solomon, and Jorma Taccone) more material to work with (i.e. enough to turn a 30 second sketch into a 90 minute movie) but at the same time takes away from what made the sketches so funny: the fact that MacGruber’s gadgets made out of found items never worked. I only remember MacGruber making one gadget throughout the whole movie. The rest of the time they focused on how he likes to rip out throats (since when??) and having him handle guns badly.
Which is not nearly as ridiculous as trying to assemble a weapon from some gunpowder and a tennis ball
Though I did laugh quite a bit (I suspect I would have laughed less if my dad and brother hadn’t been killing themselves laughing next to me), I never really bonded with the movie and the characters like I did for other spoofs, like Tropic Thunder (which is one of my favorite movies ever).
Hold my hand!
Part of that (I just realized) is an unforgivable lack of helicopters (hellloooo, action movie – where are my helicopters?!) but most of it is that MacGruber himself is so unlikeable. He’s unlikeable in a funny way – incompetent (how he became the Army’s go-to man is beyond me) and cowardly (using his teammates as shields) – but unlikeable all the same. I didn’t care if he ever got what he wanted (revenge on the bag guy for killing his wife) because I didn’t feel like he deserved it.
the fact that he listens to Michael Bolton and takes the stereo from his Miata everywhere with him are hilarious affectations though
I also don’t understand why Vicky is on the team. She doesn’t seem to have any skills (even pretend ones like MacGruber) and she screams and runs away when things get hairy. She uses a call tracing device once, but obviously they don’t NEED her for that because MacGruber uses it himself later on. She’s pretty much only there to support/bone MacGruber.
Their sex scene rivals Team America‘s in hilarity, though
It was only Ryan Phillipe and Val Kilmer (playing the straight man and the villain, respectively) that made the movie enjoyable for me. Even if I suspected the movie was crap (which I didn’t) I’d have to see it because those two tend to make good choices when it comes to roles. It’s easy to see why they picked MacGruber. Val Kilmer especially got to go over the top and down the other side in his characterization of bad guy Dieter Von Kunth (say this name out loud to yourself).
VON CUNTH: Have you ever been to D.C.?
HENCHMAN: Uh, no sir.
VON CUNTH: I was talking to the missile.
You can tell it was one of those movies where everyone laughs a lot during filming. There was one scene in particular where I thought to myself: “HOW did you keep a straight face for long enough to shoot this??”
It involves celery, and that’s all I’m saying. You really need to see it yourself.
And that’s the bottom line. You really do need to see it for yourself. If you don’t like the type of immature sex-and-toilet humor you usually see on Saturday Night Live, obviously this movie isn’t worth your time. If you do, it is. But even for people like me, who would estimate that SNL, even during its funniest years, never managed to make more than about 20% of the sketches in any given episode laugh-worthy, there’s enough for you to laugh at in this move. CELERY. That’s all I’m saying.