Rated R for strong crude and sexual content, violence, language and some nudity.
**** out of 5
As hit-or-miss as “Saturday Night Live” has been over the years, the list of films based on “SNL” characters is far more miss than hit. Granted, not all of the movies spun from the TV show are solely based on characters. Even the likes of “Mean Girls” and “Hot Rod” have come about thanks to “SNL’s” own Tina Fey and The Lonely Island boys (Andy Samburg, Jorma Taccone, and Akiva Schaffer). This year brings forth a comedic force to be reckoned with in the form of the grandmother-proposing “MacGruber.”
While most of the time we’re treated to stinkers such as “Superstar,” “Black Sheep,” “Wayne’s World 2,” and “It’s Pat,” thankfully there’s those which do work such as “The Blues Brothers,” “¡Three Amigos!,” “Wayne’s World,” and “Tommy Boy.” Also there’s the few that slip in for good measure and become love ‘em or hate ‘em classics like “Coneheads,” “Stuart Saves His Family,” “A Night at the Roxbury,” and “The Ladies Man.” What do all of these films have in common? Lorne Michaels.
Michaels usally really knows what he’s doing and gets behind some great material, as is the case with the “MacGyver” spoof “MacGruber.” First appearing in January 2007, the MacGruber character has popped up time and again over the years finally bringing him the attention he deserves during the 2009 Super Bowl. This obviously catapulted the character to stardom, and MacGruber finally gets his own movie spearheaded by the sketch’s creators - director/co-writer Jorma Taccone, along with John Solomon (who also co-wrote and directed some of the sketches for TV), and playing MacGruber as only he can, Will Forte (who is also one of the sketch’s creator/writer).
In the Siberian desert, Dieter Von Cunth (Val Kilmer returning to his 80’s comedy roots – “Top Secret!” and “Real Genius”) has just stolen a nuclear warhead and wants to turn Washington, D.C., into a pile of ash, and only one man can stop him. That man is MacGruber (Forte), but according to Cunth and the rest of the world, supposedly he died ten years ago on his wedding day at the altar along with his bride-to-be Casey (Maya Rudolph).
Col. James Faith (Powers Boothe) and Lt. Piper Dixon (Ryan Phillippe) come calling, and it isn’t until after a flashback of regret to his wedding day that MacGruber realizes that he is the only man who can stop Cunth. Assembling a team of top notch killer killers (made up of “WWE” wrestlers), MacGruber has his team but not before he accidentally blows them all up at once in his van. Now he must assemble a new team which winds up consisting of Lt. Piper and old friend/soon-to-be new flame Vicky St. Elmo (Kristen Wiig) who trot out to track down and save the day with the requisite rubber bands, tennis balls, thumb tacks, and throat rips.
The 80’s are alive and well and it couldn’t be more absurd. Action parody is a tough thing to tackle; if you have too much action you can’t take the jokes seriously, or if the film gets too silly none of the action works either. While most of the jabs are thrown at the “Lethal Weapon” series, the film pretty much lays waste to any action movie made during the 80’s. If you ever wondered what it would look like if Frank Drebin was plopped down in the middle of a Schwarzenegger, Stallone, or Van Damme flick, then look no further.
“MacGruber” most definitely makes one recall the greatest of the 80’s action-comedy genre, “Beverly Hills Cop,” even if “MacGruber” is far more over the top in its excesses as it should be when paying homage or parodying. The last film to conquer the genre was “Hot Fuzz” and, when a spoof film works, it works beautifully and, of course, the more you know about the genre the harder you’ll laugh.
Thankfully director Taccone knows that the first rule of making a genre spoof is what the Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker team made prominent: you must make a genre film first. Only then will the jokes land the way they’re supposed to instead of making the audience roll their eyes and wade through the wasteland of scatological humor for the sake of shock. This movie is only out to make you laugh. And laugh you will. What’s that you say? Never ever? Well as MacGruber teaches Lt. Piper, “Never ever say never ever.”
Article first published as Movie Review: MacGruber on Blogcritics.