MOVIE REVIEW: MacGruber

MACGRUBER-- 1 STAR

There are several reasons why skit and sketch comedy like Saturday Night LiveIn Living Color, and MadTV are so successful.  Along with snappy, witty writing and performers who aren't afraid to take chances, one of those keys to success is its design to be comprised of short length bits.  A good joke doesn't take an hour-and-a-half.  A good joke can be done in a matter of minutes with a nice set-up and great delivery.  Anything longer than that loses your audience and takes away from the brevity of the coming joke.  A good joke should be like a punch in the face or random kiss from a stranger.  It should hit quick, linger for bit, and be still be unforgettable. 

MacGruber, the latest attempt to take a mildly successful Saturday Night Live skit, is, unfortunately, only one of those things: quick.  At 89 minutes, MacGruber doesn't linger and is very quickly forgettable.  If anything, you won't forget how bad it was, and not even to the "so-bad-it's-good" level where it can become a cult classic.  This one will stay bad.

Everyone knows the skit.  Will Forte plays MacGruber, a macho parody of the Richard Dean Anderson 80's-90's television adventure series MacGyver, who only has thirty or so seconds to diffuse a bomb in a random control room with only household materials, his trusty assistant Vicki St. Elmo (Kristen Wiig) keeping track of time, and a celebrity sidekick who inevitably distracts him.  Every skit ends with his explosive demise and a big laugh.

The movie expands the character to give him a history, a backstory, and a premise that is, appropriately and intentionally, right out of the action excess of the 80's.  All of it is straight from the Jean-Claude Van Damme and Chuck Norris movie playbook.  He naturally has hulking pro-wrestler military friends.  He makes love in Top Gun lighting and drives a sweet Mazda Miata, complete with the all-important removable tape deck.  He is, of course, given an "eccentric, super-rich, and maniacal" villain named Dieter Von Cunth (Val Kilmer) who is "bent on destruction."  To no surprise, our MacGruber has a history of "bad blood" and a "score to settle" with Cunth and is brought back from solitude because he is "the only man capable of taking him down."  I could go on all day with the air quotes of familiar and descriptive cliches, and the plot that follows of "inner redemption" and a stolen missile "threatening to destroy" Washington, D.C. doesn't matter.  See.  The air quotes keep coming.

MacGruber fails where every single Saturday Night Live skit-turned-movie, save for Wayne's World, has failed.  They take something that is funny for five minutes and think it can be funny for 90 minutes with a bigger budget and the chance to charge a ticket price for it.  Like I mentioned at the start, these SNL skits are funny in their five minutes, because it works in five minutes.  Stretching what is already a thin one-note joke over an hour doesn't work. 

Wayne's World worked because they took Wayne and Garth off the couch and had them lead funny, yet believable, lives beyond the skit, but even that could only last one movie because the sequel was awful.  That premise can't work for a parody character like MacGruber.   It should have worked for The Ladies Man, but Tim Meadows is nowhere near the brilliant talent of Mike Myers, who can make almost any character his own and funny.

Where I give MacGruber its one star instead of zero is the benefit of the doubt to the direction it set out to go.  The movie was stupid because it's supposed to be stupid; therefore, it succeeds on that level.  The movie wasn't trying to be Michael Mann's Miami Vice, the upcoming A-Team, or even the ridiculous Charlie's Angels filmsby updating the flashy 80's to the modern and gritty next century with a straight face. 

MacGruber unapologetically makes its dated jokes on purpose because that's true to dated character himself.  It uses every cliche in the action movie book because, quite frankly, they work, or at least used to work.  MacGruber does all of that with reckless abandon of a hard-R rating to boot, making it not a wimpy lollipop SNL movie like Superstar or A Night at the Roxbury. Even the lessons I give you are parodies of themselves.

LESSON #1: HAVING A GUN TRUMPS NOT HAVING A GUN WHEN EVERYONE ELSE HAS A GUN-- For all of MacGruber's throat-pulling might and ingenious use of random items to dodge disasters, even he realizes the strength that comes with a spray of hot lead.  For the same reason, always where a bulletproof vest.

LESSON #2: DON'T CUT PEOPLE OFF WHILE DRIVING-- Cut off the wrong person and retribution will follow.  If you can get and remember the license plate of the perpetrator, revenge can yours!  KFBR392!  KFBR392!  KFBR392!

LESSON #3: A GOOD DISTRACTION CAN BE A HANDY TOOL IN BATTLE-- You'll never look at a piece of celery the same way again, but, hey, whatever works.

LESSON #4: FREQUENTLY OFFERING TO PERFORM SEXUAL ACTS WILL GET YOU NOWHERE AND ONLY MAKES YOU PATHETIC-- Think before you leap, especially when fellatio is involved, or at least plan better so you don't have to use that to beg.  A convincing argument or reasons rooted in strong character traits will probably do a better...*cough*...job.

LESSON #5: IF YOU NEED TO DIFFUSE A MISSILE, SCREW THE WIRES-- Why waste time sorting through multi-colored wires with cutters when you can just rip out the guidance system and targeting computer with your bare hands.  Genius!

LESSON #6: FOLLOW ORDERS-- Being versatile is fine, but improvising, making things up as you go, and changing sound plans only makes what you hope to accomplish harder.  Stick to what the experts and people in charge tell you to do.