Talk about damning with faint praise. The film’s producers couldn’t have been terribly happy that Michaels-Goldwyn touted a film critic’s praise “The best SNL movie since Wayne’s World” as one of its main sell lines. You mean, this is way funnier than It’s Pat and A Night at the Roxbury? Smashing!
But the film is indeed funny. Smartly, the production team (including co-writer/star Will Forte) have essentially sacked the long-running, one-joke “SNL” skit upon which the film is based — always ending with MacGruber dilly dallying too long and getting blown up– and instead expanded the potential comedy reach by including every ’80s action movie cliché imaginable.
MacGruber (Forte) is a highly decorated former Green Beret/Navy SEAL decorated with16 Medals of Honor, long since retired after a disastrous wedding day massacre that left his wife-to-be blown up in front of him. The evil villain who did the killing, MacGruber is convinced, was his old adversary Dieter Von Cunth (a porcine Val Kilmer), who has now managed to steal a giant nuclear warhead with which he plans to blow up half the country. Naturally, the U.S. government tracks down MacGruber as the only man who can possibly stop him. After a hilariously aborted initial effort at putting together a team, MacGruber eventually settles down on bringing his old running mate, Vicki St. Elmo (Kristen Wiig) and a young, fresh-faced operative, Lt. Piper (Ryan Phillippe) to thwart Cunth’s plans.
The comedy comes at you from all angles, from MacGruber’s heroic incompetence (during one shoot out, he spends several minutes putting together a fizzling tennis ball bomb that he throws long after the event has been decided), to pitch perfect ’80s style montage scenes (even going so far as to shoot Tony Scott-esque cinematography in glaring, smoky light), together with — it must be said — excessive utilization of Forte’s naked butt and an over-reliance on dick jokes. But, surprisingly, the film is also light on its feet. It doesn’t drag, doesn’t feel like its laboring to find the humor in a given scene, which goes a long way to keeping it enjoyable. The cast are also adept and earnest, not just marking time and punching the comedy clock. Forte, Phillippe and Wiig in particular take to their ridiculous roles with relish, giving their scenes a bouncy energy.
In short, it’s no Blues Brothers, but it’s definitely a hell of lot better than Stuart Saves His Family.
Piers Marchant is a Philly-based writer and editor, and the EIC (and film critic) for two.one.five magazine (215mag.com). His reviews can be found on 215mag.comand his tumblr blog, Sweet Smell of Success. You can also follow him on twitter @kafkaesque83.
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