Universal // 2010 // 95 Minutes // Unrated
Reviewed by Judge Daniel Kelly (Retired) // September 7th, 2010
MacGruber marks the first Saturday Night Live movie in a decade, although it isn't hard to see why. The legendary sketch show was responsible for a wide selection of films in the late 20th Century, but with the odd exception, most were recognized as overdrawn skits with precious little wit. The last film was 2000's The Ladies Man, a picture many regard to be the worst SNL crossover ever, and so with that the floodgates shut, and everything went quiet on the Lorne Michaels front. MacGruber looked like it might be a promising return for SNL into the cinematic arena, and whilst the movie itself is an accomplished comedy picture, the limp box-office receipts make me suspect that it's the last Saturday Night Live inspired project we're going to see for a while. Oh well.
Following the jacking of a nuclear weapon by arms dealer Dieter Von Cunth (Val Kilmer, Heat), the US government seeks an expert to help them resolve the matter. They turn to MacGruber (Will Forte, The Brothers Solomon), a man with more military honors than brain cells and a personal score to settle with Von Cunth. Ten years ago Von Cunth was responsible for the death of MacGruber's fiancée (Maya Rudolph, Grown Ups) at the altar, and now America's top operative is going to make him pay. Teaming up reluctantly with a young hotshot (Ryan Phillippe, Cruel Intentions) and an old flame (Kristen Wiig, Ghost Town), MacGruber is tasked with stopping Von Cunth from using his illegally acquired missile, but if he fails the USA could be left to endure a long nuclear winter.
The original MacGruber sketches on SNL were cheerful riffs on MacGyver, and since 2007 have been some of the most popular content on the show. The film retains the goofball energy and lewd sense of humor that dominated the skits, director Jorma Taccone simply upping the scale and penchant for vulgarity. MacGruber barely has a plot, but it is well written, the jokes and gags bouncing around the screen with a vigor and edginess that should be admired by fans of contemporary comedy. Everything is juvenile in the extreme, but carried out with such commitment and dedication to undiluted silliness I simply couldn't resist. MacGruber is hardly one of the year's best films, but it deserved better than the horrendous box-office fate it suffered last May.
Will Forte is clearly in love with the character, and attacks the film with every ounce of enthusiasm and comedic anarchy that he can muster. It's hard to see the comic enjoying the same degree of leading man success as Will Ferrell or Adam Sandler, but his unrelenting affection for crude improvisation and humiliating slapstick is a big factor in keeping this movie ticking. Ryan Phillippe is a competent straight man, getting some good laughs through his well timed reactions to MacGruber's idiotic behavior. He showcases a good understanding of comedic rhythm and is completely unselfish in his scenes with Forte, allowing MacGruber to run wild and steal the show. Kristen Wiig is somewhat underused as the third part of MacGruber's team, but gets to take center stage in maybe the film's funniest sequence. The scene takes place in a coffee shop and features some irresistible delivery from Wiig, who has a way of allowing a line to trail off into nervous silence that is just hysterical. The chemistry amongst the trio is great; certainly in collecting the protagonists the movie's casting director deserves a slap on the back. On the other hand, Val Kilmer is consistently flat and unimaginative as Cunth; the movie demands a hammy and overblown turn from the seasoned thespian, but he's only interested in depicting the villain as a flat and generic caricature.
MacGruber is fairly light on actual action (hence why I would be unwilling to lump it into the "action-comedy" genre), but the jokes come at a rapid and unstoppable clip for the entirety of the running. At times the movie surrenders to the obvious gag, but often Forte is able to bring a manic glint of originality to proceedings that elevates it above most ridiculous studio fare. The comic set-pieces are occasionally gold (two inspired sex scenes are a highlight), and its gentle spoofing of the 80s is well measured and never slides into lazy or intrusive territory. A well formed story is practically non-existent (and yes, I would hold that against even this movie), but the quality of the belly laughs is sharp enough to act as ample compensation. I think it's also worth noting that the movie embraces its R-rating and has no qualms about adopting a dark tone when necessary -- a scene in which MacGruber explains why he and Cunth loath each other is both fearless and oozing with black humor.
The cinematography is very professional looking (especially given the slim $10 million budget), and Taccone deploys a garish soundtrack with a wink and nudge to viewers. MacGruber is an enjoyable feature, and is one of the better parodies I can recall seeing in recent times. Obviously a meatier story might have improved things, but overall I feel this is a movie worth recommending.
The DVD looks attractive and comes housed in a nice slipcase. The picture quality is sharp and devoid of any unwanted distortion or color saturation, although a slightly sharper audio track might have been preferable. The one featured here feels a little soft in places, and the balance between musical score and dialogue isn't always perfect. An unrated cut is also included (although I struggled to note much of any change), which goes nicely with a short deleted scene and a good natured gag reel. The big selling point in terms of extra content is a commentary with Forte, Taccone, and Jason Solomon (co-writer with Forte). It's made clear that the track was recorded before the disastrous opening weekend, and in a sad twist of irony the group even optimistically jokes that the film will be a definite hit. Forte and Taccone do much of the talking (whilst the latter also plays a drinking game), with some interesting insights being revealed and a steady jokey tone dominating the chat. It's a pretty decent listen, and something fans of both the sketch and movie should appreciate.
MacGruber takes a while to build up comic momentum; the first 15 minutes feel quite dry and even a little stale. That said, the picture recovers nicely over the course of its well paced 95 minutes, so this amounts to a fairly minor extra quibble. Reviewing the DVD marked my second time viewing MacGruber (I was one of the four people who watched it in theatres) and it doesn't hold up quite as sharply on rewatch. The narrative deficiencies are more distracting and some of the gags just aren't as funny the next time around. Not a huge problem, but one worth noting for those considering a purchase.
He may be the ultimate tool, but his movie is quite good. MacGruber is definitely at least worth a rental, and maybe even picking up when it drops a bit in price.
I award MacGruber the DVD Verdict medal of comedic solidity, and relieve him
of any charges that his film is crappy. Not Guilty.
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Scales of Justice
* 2.40:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 95 Minutes
Release Year: 2010
MPAA Rating: Unrated
* Deleted Scene
* Gag Reel
* Theatrical Version