Friday, May 28, 2010

MacGruber / **** (R)

MacGruber: Will Forte
Vicki St. Elmo: Kristen Wiig
Lt. Dixon Piper: Ryan Phillippe
Dieter Von Cunth: Val Kilmer
Col. James Faith: Powers Boothe
Casey: Maya Rudolph

Universal Pictures and Rogue Pictures presents a film directed by Jorma Taccone. Written by Will Forte & John Solomon & Taccone. Based upon characters from the “Saturday Night Live” sketch. Running time: 99 min. Rated R (for strong crude and sexual content, violence, language and some nudity).

For those of you who don’t know who or what “MacGruber” is—and judging from the film’s poor box office performance so far, I fear many of you don’t—I’ll enlighten you. “MacGruber” is a spoof of the popular 80s television show “MacGyver” from the late night sketch comedy show “Saturday Night Live”. The sketch is genius in its simplicity. MacGruber is supposed to be an expert in creating gadgets to diffuse bombs out of everyday items, such as paper clips or straws. In each “episode” MacGruber, his assistant, Vicki, and one other person are trapped in a control room of some type, and MacGruber must diffuse a bomb before it explodes. Every time, some trivial issue distracts him, and the bomb explodes. It may not translate in description but the details that distract MacGruber and Will Forte’s earnest delivery and impeccable timing make this a laugh factory sketch every time.

I am aware of the low success rate of SNL skits put to feature length movies. The good ones can be counted on four fingers—“The Blues Brothers”, “Stuart Saves His Family”, “Wayne’s World”, and “Wayne’s World 2”; and I’m not so sure the first “Wayne’s World” belongs on there. When I first heard they were making a “MacGruber” movie, I couldn’t help but think they’d picked exactly the wrong sketch for a 90-minute format. It’s brilliance lies in the fact that it doesn’t run too long and everyone dies at the end of each 2-minute segment. How are they going to make that into a movie?

What brought down so many of SNL’s movie spin-off bombs is the fact that the movies depended so much on the signature bits and gags from the sketches. “A Night at the Roxbury”, “Superstar”, and “The Ladies Man” never had enough behind them to stretch to a full-length feature. The same would certainly have been true of “MacGruber” had writers Forte, John Solomon and Jorma Taccone limited themselves to what they had done with the character before. Instead they all but drop the premise of the sketches to a very minor point in the plot, and produce a full-fledged action hero spoof, making fun of the clich├ęs of the action genre in general.

Of course, action spoofs have been made before, but what separates this one from so many other failures is that director Taccome chooses to place his ridiculous leading characters into a world closer to the typical action fantasy, rather than a joke universe where nothing is serious. This movie is not serious in any way, but much of the time it looks like it is.

This effect is achieved by populating this world with characters and actors you’d expect to be in a big budget action flick. Val Kilmer (“Heat”) takes on the challenge of making a silly-named character like the villainous Dieter Von Cunth believable as a viable threat. Ryan Phillippe (“Flags of Our Fathers”) is brought in to be competent help for the highly unorthodox—and unlikely—techniques of MacGruber. And Powers Boothe (“Deadwood”) provides the sturdy military presence as MacGruber’s boss, Col. James Faith.

This “realistic” template carries over into the production values and muscular action style direction by Taccome. By placing this absurd character amongst a cast of not so absurd ones, the filmmakers allow the supporting cast to reflect the audience’s own perplexity in considering MacGruber’s awkwardness. MacGruber in turn is allowed to do and say things to others that the rest of us always wish were said in such situations. The film earns its ‘R’ rating by making MacGruber into an insult artist and a frequent user of the ‘F’ word. There is a certain gift to the way in which he tells people obviously more competent than him to go do things to themselves no mother would wish upon them.

The true strength of the film, however, lies in the comedic performances and perfect delivery by the two leads. Forte is so committed to MacGruber’s lunacy, idiocy, and audacious confidence that just about every line that comes out of his mouth produces a laugh. Kristen Wiig, reprising her role as Vicki from the SNL sketch, is as brilliant here as in everything she does. Her mousy assistant is in stark contrast to Forte’s boisterous MacGruber. Their interactions produce the movie’s biggest laughs, and they share just about the funniest sex scene ever filmed.

I’m sure many people will question the high praise I’ve placed upon this film. Even those who’ve seen it and enjoyed it will probably balk at my four star rating. But, comedy is a tough racket. Comedy rarely receives the level of accolades that other genres share. I figure no movie has made me laugh this constantly and consistently throughout 90 minutes in a very long time; it deserves my highest rating. Sure, it’s silly and stupid, but so are spoof classics like “Airplane” and “Blazing Saddles”. “MacGruber” is just as funny as those genre spoof giants. So, I implore you to rectify the box office crime committed against it last week, forego another “Sex in the City”, and watch the most unappreciated movie of the year this Memorial Day.

MacGruber | Movie Trailers

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