'MacGruber,' defuse this bomb at will
By Ruth McCann
Friday, May 21, 2010
Is dressing up a corpse funny? Is '80s music funny? Is blowing up your best friends funny? It depends, really, on who's involved. You need a great character to make a bad thing good, and the action comedy "MacGruber" is sadly short on great characters. For all the wacky, taboo, parodic situations that "MacGruber" plunges into, the film seems content to simply point at its hero, yell "What a schmuck!" and leave it at that.
In the sometimes-grand tradition of "Saturday Night Live" skits that morph into movies, "SNL" cast member Will Forte brings his crime-fighting character, MacGruber, to the silver screen and takes full advantage of an R rating with potty jokes and grisly throat-slitting (our hero's preferred method of dispatch). The cast, many of them "SNL" regulars, ham it up with verve, but it's the writing (by Forte and other "SNL"-ers) that brings things down. There's little evidence here of the fully imagined characters and silly turns of phrase that made, say, "Wayne's World" so inspired.
In the "SNL" skits, MacGruber (parodying TV hero MacGyver) established himself as a hapless guy who attempts to use everyday items to defuse bombs. But he invariably gets sidetracked and forgets to jerry-rig a life-saving device. Tick, tick, boom, the bomb explodes, but obviously MacGruber lives to die another day. (Oddly, this gimmick isn't used in the film.)
At the start of "MacGruber," we find our hero hiding out in a monastery-type place, where he fled after the villainous Dieter blew up MacGruber's wife on their wedding day. MacGruber survived the blast, but allowed the world to believe he'd perished. Now, years later, Dieter is in possession of a nuclear warhead, and the Pentagon wants MacGruber to go after him. Hungry for revenge, he agrees.
After MacGruber accidentally blows up his crack team of men, he's dismissed from the case, but he pleads with a Pentagon newbie, Lt. Dixon Piper (Ryan Phillippe), to reinstate him. Piper agrees, and the two join up with MacGruber's old associate, Vicki St. Elmo (Kristen Wiig), in a bumbling chase after Dieter, the warhead, sweet vengeance, love and sex in a graveyard.
Directed by "SNL's" Jorma Taccone, "MacGruber" sets out to parody not only the bad '80's hair and super-suaveness of "MacGyver," but also the absurd machismo and melodrama of action flicks at large. The deeply inept MacGruber acquires just enough of a persona to cobble together a feature-length story, but not enough to really make an impression.
The whole package, for all its energy, is often lamentably unsubtle. Like a kid banging pots together in a kitchen, it's a little bit funny, until it's not.
Contains strong crude and sexual content, violence, language and some nudity