MacGruber isn't half bad. Unfortunately, MacGruber isn't half good, either.
MacGruber is a half-baked comedy skit pulled off with underwhelming, yet occasionally satisfying, results with a cast who should have known better and are definitely capable of much, much better with one major exception.
I get the strangest feeling that this is as good as it gets for lead Will Forte', a decent improv comic on Saturday Night Live who can get deliriously over-the-top on television and it works just dandy in the confines in a less than five minute SNL sketch. On the big screen, however, Forte's presence proves without a doubt that acting is not his forte.
The biggest problem with MacGruber, and it's an insurmountable one that rests almost solely on Forte's shoulders as co-writer and lead actor in the film, is that the character of MacGruber is himself a joke, and not a very funny one.
In order to go along with the entire premise of MacGruber, that the character is some behemoth of national security with 16 Purple Hearts and mad MacGyver like skills, it becomes absolutely necessary, on some level, to believe the character and to buy into the whole scenario.
This never happens.
From point one, even as we're hearing about how gosh darn wonderful this man is, MacGruber portrays its lead character as nothing short of a buffoon. Either he's completely lost whatever skills he had at one point, or we're never given the chance to create some kind of a relationship with the character.
The truth is that the MacGruber that we seen onscreen is an inappropriately narcissistic idiot whose actions led to the death his wife, his assembled "team" of experts and nearly Washington, D.C. since it becomes apparent that the film's bad guy, a wacko named Cunth played by Val Kilmer (insert faux giggle), is mostly seeking revenge for MacGruber's previously stealing his college girlfriend.
Only about 2/3 of the way into the film do we begin to see the "expert" side of MacGruber, primarily in the form of his "signature" move of gleefully slitting throats.
The film opens with MacGruber having spent 10 years in a monastery since his retirement after his fiancee' (Maya Rudolph) was killed at the altar by the dastardly Cunth. Now, Cunth has acquired a nuclear weapon and his former Green Beret leader (Powers Boothe) calls him back into action in a scene that plays out like a blooper reel from Rambo. When MacGruber's first attempt at assembling a crack squad of ass whuppers goes awry due to his own poor packing of explosives, sigh, MacGruber heads out with novice military man Lt. Piper (Ryan Phillippe') and his fiancee's best friend, Vicki St. Elmo (Kristen Wiig), who has spent the last few years as an 80's style singer still holding a flame for MacGruber.
From this point on, virtually everything in MacGruber is strictly paint-by-numbers sketch comedy.
Of course, paint-by-numbers sketch comedy isn't always a bad thing. Is it? After all, the entire point of comedy is simply to make the audience laugh and there's little doubt that those who appreciate SNL sketch humor, an abundance of butt jokes, the idea of Forte' diverting the enemy by sticking a piece of celery out of his butt (technically another butt joke, I know), 80's humor with millennium technology, 80's power ballads and the thought of how much Val Kilmer appears to have turned into Marlon Brando then, by all means, MacGruber may very well be the film for you.
The rest of you, I prefer to call you discerning moviegoers, are likely to sit through the film groaning and lamenting the multitude of times in which director and co-writer Taccone, Forte' and co-writer John Solomon manage to skip on opportunities to make the film actually funny.
While Forte' certainly has a strong lead presence than, say, the woefully inadequate Andy Samberg, he falls painfully short of even Dana Carvey. Yes, even Dana Carvey.
The same is not true, however, for his supporting cast.
While Forte' can't seem to find a way to elevate his own material, Kristen Wiig transcends the material despite being dreadfully underwritten as a virginal, 80's style singer with a charming sense of insecurity and yet relentlessly "go for it" attitude. Wiig manages to make St. Elmo sweet and funny, sexy and inviting. Among all the characters, it's St. Elmo you actually root for most in the film.
As a rather straightforward military man disturbed by MacGruber's appalling lack of skills, Ryan Phillippe' turns in one of his lighter, more appealing performances in quite some time. While it was obvious that Phillippe' utilized a body double during a scene that mimicked MacGruber's celery scene (probably a sign of good judgment on his part), his performance here should up his credibility for comic roles in the future.
Val Kilmer is dependably rock solid as a darkly comical bad guy, while Powers Boothe and Maya Rudolph both shine during their time on screen despite being under-utilized.
Virtually every aspect of MacGruber feels like a familiar retread, from "cunth" jokes that recur throughout the film to the rehashed 80's music, mullet jokes and a host of other routines that feel strangely familiar and were immensely funnier in their previous setting.
While there's nothing particularly awful about MacGruber and there are a few laughs to be found in the film, one can't help but be immensely disappointed by a film that has been touted virtually everywhere as the SNL film that would restore the pristine image to the SNL brand of films.
Wait a minute. What pristine image?
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic