Review by Gordon Justesen
Forte, Kristen Wiig, Ryan Phillippe, Powers Boothe, Maya Rudolph, Val Kilmer
Director: Jorma Taccone
Audio: DTS HD 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.40:1
Features: See Review
Length: 95 Minutes
Release Date: September 7, 2010
“Everyday's a workout when you gotta carry around a 20 pound python in your jeans.”
“You and your d*ck comments.”
“It's fun to say them.”
“It's fun to hear them.”
“That's why I say them.”
“And that's why I listen.”
Film **** (On the Laughed-So-Hard-I-Nearly-Died-On-Multiple-Occasions-Scale)
The way I've come to rate comedies is purely simple. If one's face is in true aching pain when the movie is over, then the movie is deserving of such a high rating, since your face got that way as a result of laughing tremendously hard throughout the movie. Anchorman, Hot Fuzz and Tropic Thunder are perfect examples of comedies that have produced such an effect, and I can now add one more movie to that small list; MacGruber.
When you take into account that the movie is based on a Saturday Night Live sketch that barely runs a minute long, along with the dreadful list of prior SNL-based movies (excluding The Blues Brothers and Wayne's World, of course), there's no way this movie should've worked. However, what this movie has that none of the bad SNL movies did is a team of smart and truly gifted writers (all of whom currently write for the show) that knew exactly what they were doing in translating this sketch character to the big screen. Watching the movie, you really do get a sense of the effort that was put into this movie, reminding us once again that it takes smart people to make the best kind of dumb comedy.
For those unfamiliar with the sketch itself, it's basically an outlandish parody of MacGyver. The scenario always involves bumbling, mullet-sporting MacGruber (Will Forte) attempting to diffuse a bomb, only to get distracted in the most ridiculous way possible and allowing the bomb to blow up. For my money, the funniest of these is the one where he's trapped alongside guest host Charles Barkley, in which it is revealed that MacGruber is in serious need of learning some racial sensitivity.
What makes MacGruber such a huge success in its big screen translation is the fact that, unlike all of the bad SNL movies, it doesn't spend 90 minutes elaborating on the same joke told in the sketch. The movie not only presents MacGruber as a riff on MacGyver, but that of every single overdone macho characteristic and cliché that were on display in every 80s action movie. He's a little like Rambo, a little like Dalton from Road House, but mostly like Frank Drebin if he were mentally retarded.
The plot goes like this; a nuclear warhead has fallen into the hands of unstoppable criminal mastermind Dieter Von Cunth (Val Kilmer). With no other option in sight, the military turns to its last hope, the best of the best, the only American soldier to earn the rank of Green Beret, Navy SEAL and Army Ranger and the only operative to receive 16 purple hearts, 3 Congressional Medal of Honors and 7 Presidential Medals of Bravery. That man...is MacGruber!
But our hero has been in exile, taking up a peaceful life in a small Ecuador village. Ten years ago, MacGruber's fiancee was blown up on their wedding day. He's left his American hero days behind ever since.
However, MacGruber's longtime mentor, Col. Faith (Powers Boothe), tracks him down and encourages him to suit up for one last mission. He eventually accepts the job, but this time it's personal. For you see, the diabolical Cunth (I'm gonna love saying that name over and over again) is the one who ruined MacGruber's wedding day!
So MacGruber suits up and puts together a team of badass evil stoppers, all of which done in a hilarious montage that has to be seen to be believed. But things take an unexpected turn with his backup, forcing him to work with team of just two. They are Lt. Piper Dixon (Ryan Phillippe), who MacGruber has no faith in whatsoever, and Vicki St. Elmo (Kristen Wiig), who puts her dreams of becoming a singer aside to help out, having been the murdered fiancee's best friend.
For the kind of comedy that MacGruber is, the screenplay by Forte, John Solomon and director Jorma Taccone is a work of genius, and I'm not exaggerating in any way. They find ways to make multiple running gags work without overkill, which is a hard thing to pull off. Such examples include MacGruber pulling out his tape deck whenever he leaves his car, and his obsession with the license plate number of a guy who insulted him (which leads to a scene involving a notepad that has me laughing hysterically just thinking about it).
The way in which the movie pays homage to action movies of the 80s is quite clever as well. Unlike what we're used to seeing in so many terrible spoof movies these days, this pokes fun at all the cliches without spelling out to you what's being spoofed, or simply making mere references to other movies. As a matter of fact, the only noticeable movie being spoofed is the opening of Rambo III.
Will Forte has been an SNL writer and cast member for several years now, and this movie really does showcase what a promising comedic leading man he can be. Just like all the great SNL alums, particularly Will Ferrell, Forte is totally committed to whatever character he's playing and will go to any extreme to get a laugh if a movie calls for, and believe me...this one calls for it quite frequently. I can perfectly sum up Forte's unashamed approach to strike comedy gold with these two words: celery stalk...and I will leave it at that.
For me, though, the biggest highlight of this movie is the chance to see fellow SNL cast member Kristen Wiig, otherwise known to me as the single funniest female in the world, get a chance to display her comic chops. Wiig has been seen in numerous pop up roles in films such as Knocked Up, Walk Hard, Ghost Town and the recent Date Night, and in each case has or come extremely close to stealing the movie now matter how small the role was. Her two scenes in Knocked Up, where she chastises Katherine Heigl's character in the most subtle way imaginable, illustrate this beautifully.
But this is her biggest role to date, and as expected she delivers 110% as far as comedic timing is concerned. An early scene with her in a coffee shop, donning one hilarious disguise, provides one of the movie's many gut-busting laughs. To me, Wiig is one of those rare comedy talents who can make me laugh simply by talking.
And talk about a tremendous comeback role for Val Kilmer, who does a dead on job playing a sneering Bond-like villain, whose name is CUNTH, by the way. Kilmer had recently been stuck in a rut recently where most of his films were unfortunately going straight to DVD, so it's really good just to see such a talented actor back on the big screen. He has a lot of scene-stealing moments as well, especially during his scenes with Forte where his character, Cunth, uses MacGruber's lack of intelligence to his advantage.
It should also be pointed out that, for a movie that aspires to be nothing more than an immature comedy, MacGruber happens to be extremely well made from a filmmaking standpoint. There's no question that director Jorma Taccone, also an SNL writer in addition to being one of the members of The Lonely Island bunch, took every advantage of the small budget he had ($10 million to be exact), because the movie's somewhat slick and very well shot look suggests that of a much larger budget. Many of the films key laughs come as a result of sharp editing at unexpected moments, which is definitely reminiscent of the music videos and digital shorts by The Lonely Island.
We've had a lot of movies lately that have tried to pay homage or capture the spirit of the action comedies from the 80s. Many have been worthy attempts (Pineapple Express) and some should have never been attempted at all (Cop Out). MacGruber is by far the absolute best one to date, and I seriously doubt that it will be surpassed. Again, it may not be suited for everyone's comic taste, but if you want an extreme action comedy that definitely goes there, I highly recommend this cult classic in the making!
Universal's Blu-ray release delivers a magnificent looking presentation all the way. You might look at this title and wonder if HD can really make a huge difference for a movie based on a TV sketch. In this case, it absolutely does. Again, the production is a surprisingly slick and very well mounted as far as the look goes. The opening desert based sequence establishes that perfectly. And it remains stunning for the rest of the running time, with image detail looking as crystal sharp as can be in the 1080p. Color appearance is also a treat for the eyes, as well.
Having seen the movie in theaters, I was actually expecting a much bigger delivery of sound that I got based on the endless amount of action and physical pratfalls. Nonetheless, the DTS HD 5.1 mix is indeed a more than serviceable sound presentation and is the only audio format you should see this movie in. My only surprise is that there is more action limited to the front range than was anticipated, but surround sound does come into play on many occasions and the overall delivery of every possible sound element is captured terrifically. Music playback is also a big plus, as many 80s pop tracks are heard better than ever (I should point out, though, that you will never be able to hear Mr. Mister's “Broken Wings” in the same way again).
Not as much as I was hoping for, but we do get a neat and funny commentary track with director Jorma Taccone, actor Will Forte and co-writer John Solomon, as well as a Gag Reel, a Deleted Scene and some bonus content via BD-Live.
I can't sum it up any better; MacGruber is about as masterfully brilliant as dumb comedies can get, and demonstrates that if enough thought is put in, a Saturday Night Live sketch can translate extremely well into a 90 minute movie (I would actually rank this as the 2nd funniest SNL movie behind The Blues Brothers). More importantly, though, this is hands down THE FUNNIEST movie in years...yes, even funnier than The Hangover or Superbad.