Saturday Night Live’s contribution to cinema is a spotty one. After the goldmine of the first Wayne’s World, Lorne Michaels seemingly began rushing every character that ever appeared twice into pre-production. (It’s long been rumored that Mike Myers, after seeing how much money Wayne’s World made, deliberately kept Austin Powers to himself since creating him for SNL would have meant relinquishing his rights to the character.) It would seem that for every Wayne’s World, there’s a Stuart Saves His Family and for every The Blues Brothers, there’s a *gasp* Blues Brothers 2000. Some aren’t as bad as you remember (A Night at the Roxbury), some are worse (It’s Pat) and some…are Coneheads. But the “SNL Movie Making Machine” has been silent since 2000’s The Ladies Man. And now they tempt fate with MacGruber. The character is the very definition of a one-joke sketch: MacGruber (Will Forte), a poor-man’s MacGyver, tries to dismantle a bomb using whatever miscellaneous items happen to be laying around and fails. Lather, rinse, repeat. His repeated failures come not from his lack of bomb-dismantling abilities but due to his propensity for distraction. Forte himself shot the character down for weeks in pitch meetings because he couldn’t see how MacGruber could even muster an entire sketch. Now here we are three years later with 90 minutes to kill. “90 MINUTES, MACGRUBER!”
Shockingly, MacGruber actually delivers. While the sketch never really moved beyond the confines of bomb disarmament, the filmmakers have (wisely) broadened MacGruber’s universe by placing him in a spot-on parody of ’80s action flicks. The lighting, the plot, the soundtrack. They all perfectly capture the hey-day of the big-budget, slickly-produced, mindless action films of yesteryear. As the film begins, he is in self-imposed exile after the death of Casey (Maya Rudolph), his wife and first assistant. However, he is called out of retirement to help thwart a nuclear terrorist, Val Kilmer as Dieter Von Cunth (yeah, you read that right).
MacGruber is joyously full of nonsensical bravado. The character is paradoxically incompetent yet extraordinarily qualified. Each idea he has is more ridiculous than the last, yet he continually stumbles into success like a modern day Inspector Clouseau. By turns cocky, inept, clueless and brilliant; you never know which direction the character (or the film for that matter) will take. But regardless of the direction, it always seems to end up working. Whether the jokes are broad (the film boasts the funniest and strangest sex scene since Team America: World Police), reoccurring (MacGruber’s car stereo is never not funny) or just plain odd (like the cougar roars that accompany every explosion for no apparent reason), they all seem to work.
Kristen Wiig and Ryan Phillippe make up the remainder of the team as Vicki St. Elmo and Lt. Dixon Piper respectively. They play collective straight-man to Forte’s unique brand of lunacy and each do a superb job of both underselling and playing broad depending on what the joke calls for.
Forte has finally gotten the break-out role he’s so long deserved. He anchors the entire proceedings with a go-for-broke, anything-for-a-laugh mentality (and I do mean anything.) Make no mistake, it’s not for everyone. The film wears its “R” rating on it sleeve. Its brand of humor is overly-broad, violent, foul-mouthed and unapologetically raunchy. And I mean all of those as compliments even if they are cautionary ones. It would appear that Will Forte might have just single-handedly resurrected the SNL Movie Making Machine.
God help us all.
On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being The Blues Brothers and 1 being It’s Pat, MacGruber gets an 8.