A film review by Craig J. Koban May 26, 2010
2010, R, 99 mins.
2010, R, 99 mins.
Will Forte: MacGruber / Kristen Wiig: Vicki / Ryan
Phillippe: Piper / Val Kilmer: Von Cunth / Powers Booth:
Col. James Faith
– 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.
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
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
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.
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.
“plot” is just a closeline for the sheer and limitless lunacy on
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?).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.