Will Forte as MacGruber
Kristen Wiig as Vicki St. Elmo
Val Kilmer as Dieter Von Cunth
Ryan Phillippe as Lt. Dixon Piper
Maya Rudolph as Casey
Powers Boothe as Col. James Faith
Rhys Coiro as The Russian
Andy Mackenzie as Hoss Bender
Timothy V. Murphy as Constantine
Jasper Cole as Zeke Pleshette
Directed by Jorma Taccone
Former government agent MacGruber (Will Forte) returns to active duty when he learns his arch-enemy Dieter Von Cunth (Val Kilmer), the man who murdered his fiancée, has gotten his hands on a nuclear weapon, and MacGruber must assemble a crack team of experts to take him down. Easier said than done for the bumbling tech “expert.”
The idea of bringing the one-joke “MacGruber” sketches from “Saturday Night Live” to the big screen may not seem like something that could possibly hold much water after the previous forced attempts at making “SNL” characters work for more than three minutes at a time. Thankfully, this attempt has more in common with “Team America: World Police,” being a loving spoof of ’80s and ’90s action movies instead of trying to reinvent the wheel.
As the movie opens, MacGruber has been retired for ten years after the murder of his fiancée, but his old boss Colonel James Faith (Powers Boothe) thinks he’s the only one that can save the world when his arch-nemesis Dieter von Cunth (Val Kilmer) gets his hands on a nuclear weapon. Faith soon learns what an incredibly bad decision that is as MacGruber is completely incompetent at accomplishing the mission, botching up every simple task along the way.
The results are much like the recent remake of “Get Smart,” only going further out on a limb in terms of raunchier R-rated material than would ever be allowed even on late night. Though much of the humor still comes from MacGruber’s incompetence and poorly disguised lack of self-esteem, making it somewhat predictable at times, anyone going into the movie thinking this is just going to be an extended version of the sketch will either be pleasantly surprised or bitterly disappointed. Probably the former.
It’s really quite amazing how much comedy they can get out of a fairly minimal cast of just five key players, but much of that comes from Forte’s daring to take this character as far as he possibly can for laughs while constantly playing this seriously. In that sense, Forte is every bit as funny as Leslie Nielsen at his height with a bit of Peter Sellers’ Inspector Clouseau mixed in, but taking it even further by showing his bare ass more times than any audience could possibly want to see. While there isn’t a ton of emotional depth in any of it, the character never wears out his welcome because Forte finds ways of keeping him entertaining.
In the same way, Val Kilmer is perfectly-cast as the villain whose name brings about easy laughs anytime it’s said aloud, a joke that approaches the danger of wearing itself thin the more times it’s used yet still worth a snicker for those who’ve remained in touch with their inner 13-year-old. Even with more screen time, playing MacGruber’s beleaguered assistant Vicki St. Elmo doesn’t allow Kristen Wiig much room to show her strengths, instead taking a backseat to set Forte up to do his thing. She’s considerably better at that than Ryan Phillipe who is comparatively stiff as the military man who begrudgingly ends up paired with MacGruber to create fairly obvious comic tension.
More often than not, the humor delves into the realm of the silly or the scatological, while still generating laughs even from the dumbest bits. Though this includes a number of recurring gags–one involving a stalk of celery kills every time–there’s surprising little repetition as the movie flows from one gag to the next.
Much of this can be attributed to first-time feature director Jorman Taccone, who successfully pulls together all the disparate humor, creating a movie that looks exactly like those campy ’80s action movies it’s trying to satirize. While never quite as finely-honed in that regard as the similarly-minded “Hot Fuzz,” Taccone’s skills at mimicking the filmmaking and editing style from that era gives the film a distinctive look that adds another layer to the overall joke. It’s also why the movie works better than “The Losers”–another ’80s inspired action movie–in that Taccone does a much better job creating a movie with a cohesive style and vision, without losing sight of the fact that MacGruber always has to be the focus of the laughs.
This couldn’t be clearer than in the inevitable love scene between MacGruber and Vicki St. Elmo, which starts out like one of those slo-mo close-up romance scenes from “Top Gun” or “An Officer and a Gentleman” and then turns into something absolutely hilarious. If for whatever reason, you’d been trying your best to resist laughing up until that point, expect damn to burst right there, because it’s impossible to hold back laughs after that.
The Bottom Line:
Those who enjoy low-brow don’t-need-no-brain-to-get humor will certainly appreciate “MacGruber” for all it’s worth, as it successfully establishes a character on par with Austin Powers in terms of laugh fodder. While not perfect by any means, it does more than an adequate job transcending the pitfalls of prior movies based on “SNL” sketches by trying its best to be consistently funny with non-stop laughs.