A film review by Craig J. Koban May 26, 2010


2010, R,  99 mins.


Will Forte: MacGruber / Kristen Wiig: Vicki / Ryan Phillippe: Piper / Val Kilmer: Von Cunth / Powers Booth: Col. James Faith

Directed by Jorma Taccone / Written by Will Forte, John Solomon, Taccone

MacGruber – not at all to be confused with MacGyver – is sort of an infectious combination of Chuck Norris, Rambo, and…say…Frank Drebin.  Like Norris, he's a mulleted figure of martial arts rage that can pop at any second.  Like Rambo, he’s a super-solider that can kill an enemy in a variety of ways, not to mention that he’s a decorated man of his country: he has 16 Purple Hearts and is astoundingly the only member of the Green Berets, the Navy SEALS, and the Army Rangers.  Oddly enough, MacGruber managed to do all of that while maintaining a strict personal code of never firing weapons.  Oh…and he was also the former tight end for the University of Texas at El Paso.  That latter trait cannot be attributed to either Mr. Norris or Mr. Rambo. 

Yet, like Mr. Drebin, MacGruber is a textbook ignoramus.  Like his TV doppelganger, MacGyver, MacGruber believes that he is a mastermind of using everyday household objects and combining them to create weapons that can destroy his enemies, but his contraptions are so hopeless inept that no bad guy in the world would ever fall for them.  He does have two skills that he is good at: ripping throats out of his victims with his bare hands (“That’s my main move!”) and multiple, animalistic and extended orgasms.  Alas, his Achilles Heel is his frequent and monumental stupidity and naivety.  He’s the kind of moron that can’t see the forest because the trees are in the way. 

MACGRUBER, of course, saw its inception on the small screen in SNL skit form from the creative minds of actor Will Forte (who plays the title character) writer John Solomon, and writer/director Jorma Taccone, the latter being part of the brilliant comedy troupe trio known as The Lonely Island (they made some of the freshest and funniest shorts in recent SNL memory).  MACGRUBER basically started life in barely-60-second skits that spoofed the adventure TV series MACGYVER, but MacGruber’s mindless detachment from reality often resulted in the presumed deaths of his companions…and himself. 

Many have questions (and rightfully) whether or not a fairly minor and inconsequential TV sketch could be stretched out into a 90 minute feature film, especially considering that there has been a not-so-proud legacy of lame SNL skits becoming equally lame and lackluster films (we know who you are, A NIGHT AT THE ROXBURY, SUPERSTAR, and THE LADIES MAN!).  I guess, in a way, that the notorious failures of so many not-ready-for-prime-time SNL shorts migrating to the big screen have made many instantly write off MACGRUBER.   

However, writer and star Forte and his co-writer/director Taccone have taken a barely-there premise and have managed to not only send up the Richard Dean Anderson TV series, but they also – much like HOT FUZZ – place their creation within a frequently uproarious send-up of 1980’s action film kitsch.  As a result, MACGRUBER manages to hilariously wink at and subvert the inane conventions of the genre while showing a mild level of appreciation for it.  More crucially, though, is that this is such an affectionate homage that it even manages to be just as riotously filthy, potty-mouthed, obscene, puerile, and perversely violent and gory as the film’s its fondly remembering.  MACGRUBER is wall-to-wall with infantile impropriety and nuttiness, but it's liberatingly bawdy, crude and childish and it's makes-no-excuses and never-look-back eagerness to be both profane and reverential is part of its dopey charm.  Yes, for every gag that works here there is at least one more that falls thunderously flat, but the participants at least maintain a consistency with trying hard to do anything possible to make us laugh.   

The “plot” is just a closeline for the sheer and limitless lunacy on display here.  Early on we meet MacGruber (Forte, a comedian that is often variably funny, but here he channels a deranged and fixated comic performance that goes for broke) that has – much like Rambo in his third film – retired from the special forces and is living in hiding in a life of solitude.  That is, wouldn’t you know it, until his old boss, a Richard Crena-esque Colonel named James Faith (Powers Booth, remarkably keeping his performance straight laced) that yearns for MacGruber to come back one more time to defeat his evil arch nemesis.  The baddie here is the scandalously named Dieter Von Cunth (just say it out loud) and he is played by a very game (and uncharacteristically chubby) Val Kilmer.  His playful and exuberant performance here reminds us of how good he is in spoofs playing broad laughs without over telegraphing them (remember TOP SECRET! and HOT SHOTS?).

Anyhoo’, Cunt…th  has stolen a nuclear missile and wants to launch it at Washington, but he does not have the safety codes to launch it.  No problem for MacGruber, as he begins a long process of recruiting a beefy and tough team (comprised of many monsters of WWE fame) in one of the film’s funnier montages.  It is, however, one of the shortest lived special ops teams in movie history: he gathers all of the men in his van and his superior on an airport tarmac briefs him.  After being questioned as to where his team is, MacGruber responds that they are in the van sitting on top of his own homemade C4 explosives.  The hilarity here is not in discovering what will come next, but in anticipation of it. 

After unintentionally massacring his entire squad, MacGruber decides that he will assemble a team made up of two: the first being an eager and determined military newbie named Lt. Dixon Piper (Ryan Phillippe, nicely playing the straight man to Forte’s preposterousness) and Vicki St. Elmo (Kristen Wiig, slightly underused, but very funny in small dosages).  Vicki and MacGruber have a “past”: she had personal ties to his would-be wife, Casey, and Casey, in turn, was the woman that came between MacGruber and Cunth (a flashback shows them in as best buds, later to turn mortal enemies).  Cunth literally launched a bomb at MacGruber and Casey’s wedding, killing the bride.  When Vicki thought that MacGruber too was dead as well, she turned away from spy work to went on to becoming a solo recording artist.  Nonetheless, Vicki, Piper, and MacGruber band together to save the world and pound the hell out of Cunth…heh. 

Again, the film is jam packed with rampant absurdity and oddball high jinks and it does not score big laughs all of the time.  Yet, MACGRUBER deserves props for never giving up in its 90 minutes to go to unpardonable lengths to get us chuckling.  Even when there’s groan-inducing moments to be had, there still remains instances of high joviality, like a heftily funny scene where MacGruber sends in Vicki – dressed like him – as part of a sting operation (he has parked the surveillance van miles away because he did not want to park it at a meter, which makes him both a coward and cheap).  Then there is another outrageously droll and macabre scene where the hero uses Piper as a human shield…later admitting that he never knew that Piper was wearing a bulletproof vest.  Then there is MacGruber’s ravenous appetite for ripping people’s throats out…not to mention his fanatical obsession with his vintage Miata, which comes complete with a removable cassette stereo.  He takes his vehicle so seriously that – when cut off by a car with the license plate KFBR392 – he memorizes the plate to plot his revenge later in a reveal that manages to be a cheeky homage to a similar moment in THE SHINNING.

There are two moments that are farcical classics: The first involves MacGruber going home with Vicki one night so he can help her lose her virginity (“You won’t be one for long, “ he confidently tells her).  MacGruber’s techniques in the sack are…shall we say…frighteningly rough.  He feels so much shame afterwards that he visits his wife’s grave, during which she appears as an Obi Wan Kenobi-like apparition to console him.  Mac Gruber, to help him deal with his mixed emotions, then proceeds to have frighteningly rough sex…with the ghost.  The second moment involves an infamous standoff between Mac Gruber, Piper, and Cunth’s men: MacGruber tells Piper to move in while he provides a distraction.  MacGruber’s plan is very successful, mostly because his distraction involved a celery stick, his naked visage, and the vegetable being placed where it definitely should not be. 

I am ashamed to admit how much I laughed during MACGRUBER: the film is awash in a symphony of sight gags and word play that I usually loathe.  Nonetheless, the film has ample and frenetic comic energy and crazed momentum to carry its debauchery confidently forward.  This is greatly assisted by two things: (a) Forte’s unbounded willingness to try anything for a laugh and (b) the good cast around him that effectively underplay their roles for just the right hilarious reaction shots.  Watch Wiig’s reaction, for instance, when MacGruber explains to her what taking “an upper decker in the master bathroom” means, or Phillippe’s when he tries to fend off MacGruber’s desperate insistence that he will perform felatio on him to convince him to be on his team.  The film highlights how a very, very game cast can take the fifthly madness of the script and just go with it. 

Ha-ha…classic MacGruber, you might say

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