I've never known quite what to make of Will Forte. Shortly after he arrived on "Saturday Night Live," he was enlisted to be their George W. Bush after Will Ferrell's departure, and he was awful. Still, he's displayed through the years a willingness to do almost anything for a laugh, particularly, playing pathetic. Sometimes, it's even funny. MacGruber is pretty funny. And pathetic. And it definitely continues to display that quality of just going for it if there are any possible laughs to be mined.
MacGruber originated as an "SNL" parody of the 1980's t.v. show "MacGyver," with Richard Dean Anderson. I have to admit I have probably seen every episode of this show, though none recently. I'm right on the tail end of the marketing for this movie, and that does not mean I'm 18 going on 17. It was a cool enough show for when I was a kid, and always ripe for parody. I've enjoyed most of the skit versions I've seen. It's just so ridiculous (the skits and the original show).
The film, while not a direct parody of the show, still makes use of enough action tropes and semi-direct references to it to qualify as a parody of it. But it's its own action comedy as well, and a parody of muscular action films. When we first find MacGruber, he's being recruited by Col. James Faith (Powers Boothe, okay) and Lt. Dixon Piper (Ryan Phillippe, dedicated straight man) to come out of retirement to lead the search for a nuclear weapon stolen by MacGruber's old nemesis, Dieter Von C---h (Val Kilmer, okay).
C---h's not MacGruber's nemesis because he's a terrorist, MacGruber retired to get away from working to protect his country (after an unbelievably strong record of service) and is cooling out at a monastery. MacGruber hates C---h because C---h firebombed MacGruber's wedding, killing his fiancée, Casey (Maya Rudolph).
At first, MacGruber demurs, but eventually, he decides to take the government up on its offer, recruiting a team of "American heroes" from his past missions with names like Tug Manley to find and thwart C---h's team of baddies. This goes awry.
As it works out, MacGruber ends up with a team of just three, himself, Lt. Piper and Vicki St. Elmo (Kristen Wiig, floating magically above the lousiest parts of the film), who worked with MacGruber in the past and was best friends with Casey. But first he has to convince her to leave behind a promising career writing terrible music on a keyboard.
Most of the jokes work, if you're in the right frame of mind--i.e., a totally ridiculous frame of mind with maybe some remnants of old "MacGyver" episodes rattling around somewhere in your memory, and there are plenty of jokes. MacGruber is portrayed as addled, unconfident (but with bravura in his back pocket), stuck-in-the-eighties weirdo with multiple identity issues. There's nothing serious about the character, but a lot that's pathetic, and, as before, sometimes funny. The film does get off its laugh-pace at times, but generally snaps back pretty well. There's a winningness to its determination to go too far. And there were a couple of times when it lit up a lot of laugh-receptors in my brain at once.
I want to put in a quick word for some good "SNL" movies which I feel have generally been unfairly slammed in reviews I've seen of MacGruber. Anybody could tell you The Blues Brothers and the Wayne's World movies are classics, and this is widely acknowledged. But A Night at the Roxbury is very, very funny, a very good, slight film based on a good sketch from the show. It's Pat and Stuart Saves His Family are solid, with moments of greatness. I haven't seen The Ladies Man or Superstar. Coneheads is pretty predictably not that great.
MacGruber is absurd, but not an absurdist classic like the best of Jerry Lewis, Adam Sandler or others, though definitely in that vein. It's aggressively odd and vulgar. There are times when it is definitely trying too hard, but, eh, I still mostly laughed.
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