Richard Dean Anderson's iconic MacGyver could probably create a movie out of a paper clip and a mirror. With every modern filmmaking device at hand, asks Kimberly Gadette, how does the work of MacGruber compare?
Saturday Night Live ("SNL") mires its latest skit-turned-film, MacGruber, in the '90s. Ah, yes, the good old '90s, when SNL took itself to the movies in a string of painfully unfunny flops: Coneheads, Wayne's World 2, It's Pat, Stuart Saves His Family, A Night at the Roxbury and Superstar. After 35 years of SNL, its once bright star growing dim (save for the occasional flash of, say, a Tina Fey), you'd think we'd finally be free of these skittish adaptations. But no. Recalling the quote that's often attributed to Einstein – "The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result" – SNL creator and long-time producer Lorne Michaels finds himself boomeranging back to the cinematic recycle. And wouldn't you know, he's probably expecting a new result.
Rather than just an everyday slog into the land of the dull, this movie is unnecessarily ugly. With a villain named Cunth – yes, the "h" is barely audible – the misogyny threads throughout the movie. The mullet-sporting hero (Will Forte's MacGruber) repeatedly states how he "can't wait to pound that Cunth." Add to that a streak of homophobia, MacGruber rejecting one of his old team members for an assignment when he realizes that the guy has a male lover. Cunths and queerths ... are you screaming with laughter yet? Or are you just screaming?
It's not that the SNL producer, director, writers and lead cast members (all SNL folks) don't have passion for their project. It's just that their passion seems geared solely toward the acquisition of bucks at the box office. Comedic Art? Sorry, never met him. Logic? Don't be ridiculous. Appeal? Sure, if you're a 12-year-old boy who wants to hear all those nasty words that your folks won't let you use. But since it's an "R" rated film, the younger demographic will have to sneak into the movie on the sly. Not that that's a problem, since there's usually only one usher per multiplex, and he's busy ... but crashing the film means that the box office numbers won't a) correctly reflect its popularity with the pubescent public (ooh, "pubescent," sounds nasty), and b) the dollars will go elsewhere. Wait, wasn't the accruing of the dollars the whole point in the first place?
But why should we be surprised at this nonsense, considering that the film introduces a national war hero who has sixteen purple hearts, three Congressional Medals of Honor and seven presidential medals of bravery – and is all the while too frightened of guns to use them. Although funny for a momentary bit, the concept is head-shaking for a feature.
Even the lead actor was flummoxed. Reacting to Michaels when he first floated the idea, Will Forte said, "When Lorne first got excited about trying to make a movie about MacGruber, we thought, ‘Are you crazy?' This is a 60-second sketch on SNL that ends in an explosion every time."
Bingo. Bombs away.
But like the man guillotined for sporting an outdated mullet because he thinks it shows his aptitude for wit ... I'm getting ahead of myself.
A send-up of the1985-92 television series MacGyver starring Richard Dean Anderson, while the original character is a brilliant scientist and technician who relies on non-violent means to halt dastardly deeds, MacGruber presents a boob who doesn't know what he's doing. In the current story, since the protagonist's fiancée had been killed ten years prior by all-around bad guy Dieter Von Cunth (Val Kilmer), MacGruber had sworn off a life of fighting crime. But when Von Cunth steals a nuclear warhead, Colonel James Faith (Powers Boothe) begs MacGruber back into service. After MacGruber loses his first team, he turns to rookie Dixon Piper (Ryan Phillippe) and old friend Vicki St. Elmo (Kristen Wiig) to help him save the day.
While the character of a loveable, loony bungler has already been gumshoed to death in such fictional heroes as Inspector Clousseau, Austin Powers and Maxwell Smart, there are certain factors that give these goofy espionage films their appeal. Such as the witty dialogue, the side-splittingly funny set-ups; the great supporting cast, the clever plot and the personality of the hero himself.
None of the above comes into play. In particular, Forte's MacGruber embodies an ignorant sociopath who we wish would just go away. When he's not beating people to a pulp, he's either threatening to do so, or humping tombstones and desks. Or sticking a piece of celery up his anus. Just the fellow to save us all in our most dire time of need.
Phillippe does a credible job in his role as straight man who becomes less enchanted with this paper tiger as the film wears on. We can almost imagine the actor becoming less enchanted as well, wondering where or when the comedy is supposed to take place.
However, as MacGruber's unwilling accomplice Vicki, kudos to Wiig for attempting to create an actual character: shy, scared, much smarter than she realizes. But sadly, not smart enough to stay away from this rudely-fashioned piece of junk that MacGyver, even in his most desperate hour, would have refused to handle.
Rating on a scale of 5 hand grenades fashioned from bits of string and goo: 0.5
Release date: US: 21 May 2010; UK: 18 June 2010
Directed by: Jorma Taccone
Written by: Will Forte & John Solomon & Jorma Taccone
Cast: Will Forte, Kristen Wiig, Ryan Phillippe, Val Kilmer, Powers Boothe, Maya Rudolph
Rating: US = R; UK = 15
Running time (mins): 99