Spoof goes poof!
Will Forte is a talented, funny guy, and I would certainly like to see him make a successful transition from Saturday Night Live to the big screen. After bit and supporting parts in meager cinematic offerings, he gets a chance to headline as MacGruber.
While Forte gives it his all, and fellow SNL writer Jorma Taccone makes a valiant effort in his feature film directorial debut, the normally 90-second sketch ultimately doesn’t prove itself worthy of a big screen treatment.
The recurring sketch has been good for a laugh or two on SNL. Most recently, MacGruber—an homage to TV action hero MacGyver—tried to diffuse a bomb while dealing with his unnatural attraction to his grandma, played by Betty White in her SNL hosting debut. As usual, MacGruber became too distracted and blew himself and his nana to bits. It’s stuff worthy of a giggle or two but not substantial laugh fuel.
The same goes for the full-length movie. There are some laughs to be had during its 90-minute running time, but not enough to propel an entire feature film.
After seeing his wife blown up on their wedding altar by the evil Dieter Von Cunth (the “h” is silent, and he’s played by Val Kilmer), MacGruber fakes his death and goes into hiding. When Cunth hijacks a nuclear missile, MacGruber’s former commander (Powers Boothe) coaxes him out of retirement to join an elite force of heroic men.
Unfortunately, MacGruber irresponsibly places too much C-4 in their van before the mission starts and blows them all to smithereens.
MacGruber resorts to plan B, which includes Saturday Night cohort Kristen Wiig as a feeble operative and Ryan Phillippe playing straight man against Forte’s antics. They face off against Cunth, predictably repeating his naughty name again and again.
MacGyver originally ran in the ’80s, so this gives Forte a chance to goof on the decade, which results in some of the film’s better jokes. A running gag involving his removable car stereo is funny, as is the appearance of certain bands on the soundtrack. (Toto, Eddie Money and Quarterflash all rock out.)
But the main plot comes off as a poor man’s Austin Powers rather than an adept spoof of action movies. Alas, some of the movie’s more prominent jokes, including the insertion of celery stalks into one’s butthole, are just random silliness. While I don’t have a problem with random silliness, I generally do when it involves a naked Forte with celery sticking out of his ass.
I like Wiig a lot, and she gets a funny passage or two. I couldn’t help thinking that a couple of her SNL characters, like the Asshole Girl (“You look like a rabbit.”) or Target Lady would be more worthy of a feature film. Kilmer has a funny moment or two, and let it be said that his death scene is a mighty thing of beauty that almost saves the movie. Had the rest of the film lived up to the hilarity of this moment, Forte and Taccone might’ve had something here.
In actuality, this premise might’ve worked as a weekly TV show rather than a one-off movie. TV needs a good weekly spoof like Police Squad!, and the MacGruber gag could’ve worked in half-hour hits rather than being stretched out to 90 minutes. Given that the film bombed in its opening weekend, it’s not likely anything like that will happen.
I still have hope for Forte. His “Potato Chip Thief” sketch was the funniest thing on SNL this year, and MacGruber will probably live on if he returns for another season. Expect to see MacGruber distracted by bad reviews and box office returns while trying to diffuse a bomb. Inevitably, he’ll blow himself and his friends up, as he did MacGruber’s viability as a big screen franchise with this mediocre effort.