MacGruber (2010)

I’m torn with MacGruber.  On one hand I did my fair share of laughing.  It’s ridiculous and silly and you get to see Ryan Phillipe put a piece of celery in his butt.  On the other hand it’s yet another SNL extenda-sketch with very little consistency, continuity, or rhythm.  There are hilarious moments and stupid moments, and it’s hard to say which way the scale shifts.  I can see a lot of people walking out of the theater perfectly happy with their experience.  Certainly the conversations I’ve had suggest low expectations; all most folks are looking for are some hard laughs, and the film has it’s fair share.  But the experience of MacGruber seems a little empty.  It’s like cereal without milk.  Still good, but you’re pretty aware that something’s missing.

MacGruber (Will Forte) is ex-CIA, ex-special forces, ex-something or other, with an array of skills mostly hinted at and absolutely no restraint when it comes to throat-ripping.  When his wife Casey (Maya Rudolph) was dramatically exploded on their wedding day by the conventionally evil and magnificently bloated Dieter Von Cunth (Val Kilmer), MacGruber retreated into solitude.  But all these years later Von Cunth returns, and MacGruber is forced to end his mourning and take his revenge.  He assembles a team complete with Lt. Piper Dixon (Ryan Phillippe) and Vicki St. Elmo (Kristen Wiig), and the hunt for Von Cunth begins.  A hunt which can be funny and charming, predictable and incredibly stupid.

Saturday Night Live sketches have made the trip to the big screen a number of times.  Back in 1980 The Blues Brothers killed it, and in 1993 Wayne’s World was a huge success.  But since then the films seem to be getting lousier and lousier with titles like It’s Pat, A Night at the Roxbury and The Ladies’ Man. Movies that seemed more an opportunity to bank on a minor success then an attempt to make something actually good, and ended up a mildly embarrassing asterisk on SNL’s resume.  And the obvious question, is MacGruber yet another venture into mediocre comedy?  To answer that you have to compare the chief elements.  How do the performances stand up?  And the comedy?  And the plot?  Certainly the actors are all entirely committed, which can be good and bad.  Will Forte throws himself into the role of MacGruber with absolute commitment which salvages some of the weaker moments.  He’s simply one of those guys who can be funny without having to try too hard.  Kristin Wiig is adorably simple minded and sweetly hysterical; her soft-spoken punchlines are one of the absolute highlights of the film.  On the other side there’s Ryan Phillippe and Val Kilmer.  Guys who aren’t so much lacking the talent to pull this stuff off, but the chance.  They both have a few good moments, but the direction for the characters seems confused, and neither actor seems certain what to play.  As for the comedy, it too jumps around.  Some scenes are not only hilarious, but constructed and clever.  Others are just glorified shit jokes.  There’s nothing really wrong with the latter, but the lack of polish certainly isn’t a good thing.  And the plot is as predictable and mundane as you would expect it to be.  With MacGruber saving the day and getting the girl and all that.  It’s hard to fault the film for this, as I imagine at no point in the process was plot of particular interest to anyone involved, but if you want to compare it with Blues Brothers or Wayne’s World, it’s hard to ignore how completely neglected the story can feel.  Maybe it’s just that hard to strike a balance between plot and this type of comedy; you hinder your story by trying to make the jokes work within it’s confines, and vice versa.  But if that’s the case, the comedy has to be consistent, with a laugh a minute and an endless stream of repeatable lines.  I’m not sure if you can say that about MacGruber.

Perhaps it’s as simple as this: if you see it, you’ll laugh.  That’s the only thing that actually matters.  But don’t expect to be in hysterics, and don’t expect to be charmed by the narrative.  First time feature director Jorma Taccone isn’t out to make history or even The Blues Brothers. This is a basic comedy, with a few great moments, and a pretty high degree of forgettability.  It’s the kind of fun brainlessness the summer movies bank on.  And I suppose, when it’s all said and done, that’s fine with me.

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