Will Forte is a talented comedic actor. To paraphrase Homer Simpson, he is “the glue that holds together the gears” of this movie. For good and for bad, MacGruber is clearly the result of a lot of hilarious jokes, spit-balling and wild imagination. To me, it’s impressive that anyone could transform a thirty second explosion sketch into a major motion picture, but given the fact that a head-nodding sketch became A Night at the Roxbury the decision is equal parts shock and awe. What MacGruber lacks in substance, it makes up for in sheer hilarity. The best parts of this film are moments when both the writers and performers are pushing the boundaries of what is acceptable in action films and normal comedies. Call it what you will, but MacGruber is anything but normal.
Based on an SNL parody of the old MacGyver TV series, MacGruber centers around Forte’s titular character assembling a crack team of military personnel to stop terrorist Dieter von Cunth (Val Kilmer, sort of) from destroying yadda yadda yadda. The premise is simple, and it’s usually just an excuse for sketches, gags and set-pieces in various non-exotic locales. The movie looks cheap, but in a lovingly duct taped way that is fairly endearing. The direction by Jorma Taccone is full of parodic homages to 90s action dreck, and aside from a few awful special effects at the end it’s all mostly very watchable. There is nothing necessarily artful or cinematic about MacGruber, but when it comes to cringe-worthy hilarious jokes, MacGruber has the tendency to surprise you like a bad Saturday Night Live with one blow-out sketch.
I laughed consistently enough throughout MacGruber, but if I remember correctly, the laughs started hitting hardest twenty minutes in and then stopped abruptly about fifteen minutes from the end. For a movie based on a sketch about fatal explosions, the basic tenets of that sketch are all-but ignored until the third act, which is both surprising and admirable. While his action movie sequences are fun at times, the character MacGruber’s real charm comes from his lack of charm when it comes to women. MacGruber’s dark Lethal Weapon-esque past makes him memorable, sympathetic, and allows you to justify his retarded behavior, in the same way that Austin Powers was vaguely more likable in the first movie for simply being a fish out of water. MacGruber is a lover in spite of his ridiculous mullet, and his skill at picking up dames and making passionate love to them is probably the highlight of the entire picture. While Forte passably plays a mock-action hero, it’s his human-to-human moments that prove his passion as a performer and his sincere ability to command an audience. Forte is as skilled as Mike Myers, Will Ferrell or any of his predecessors, but like them he needs to find the perfect way to express his talent and sense of humor to an audience without alienating them or grossing them out. He needs to trust that his creaky grin and sincerity make him unique amongst the throng of average white guy comedians, and that his perspective in this movie is the only thing that keeps the ordeal unique. MacGruber’s honest desperation to play the idyllic hero in spite of his incompetence is the very reason for his charisma. It’s wonderful to see Kristen Wiig and Maya Rudolph adore him so deeply, because we all know that he’s a goof. If these talented funny women can shower this dork with affection, then it’s easy for the audience to do the same and go along with the silly and explosive action.
Val Kilmer is the real waste of space here. Compared to his hilarious (and thinner) portrayal of Gay Perry in Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang this underwhelming performance as Dieter von Cunth is just as forgettable as his once touted star power. It’s almost pathetic that Forte is now the star of a parody of the kind of movies that Kilmer starred in back in the 90s. There’s no love for that irony in Kilmer’s eyes, no sense of self-deprecation. It’s the acting equivalent of finding Sadaam in the spider hole. He’s a man resigned to his fate.
Ryan Phillipe is in this movie too. That’s about all you can say for him. He has a funny gag near the end, but that’s all. I haven’t been a fan of that guy since he was almost killed by a peanut in Antitrust. In the end, MacGruber is as funny as you want it to be, and the insane violence, sexuality and borderline insanity of the movie’s second half gladly make up for the dull moments early on. We’ve seen action movie parodies before, so that part isn’t exactly new, but the fact that Forte is such a winner comedically allowed me to put aside my minor qualms and lose myself in the fun while it was happening. Gauging by the box office results for this movie, many of you haven’t seen it, nor do you plan to see it eventually, but I would recommend this movie to anyone searching for a funny afternoon matinee with plenty of ridiculous moments. I can see this movie being a real hit on DVD if it’s released at the right time, and that could be a huge second life for this picture (SO CONSIDER IT, HOLLYWOOD!) My biggest hope is that this movie’s box office results won’t kill MacGruber as a character, because I think he can still provide a lot of laughs. There just occasionally needs to be more interesting things happening around him.