“MacGruber” is a sobering reminder of one of my own basic tenets for reviewing film: an “upper decker” [joke] in the trailer does not a classic comedy make. Sometimes, as with the “MacGruber” trailer, I forget that sage guideline and find myself all a-flutter over a poo reference before I’ve seen the film. Inevitably, I’m usually disappointed; poo jokes are rarely as funny in a 90-minute film as they may seem in a two-and-a-half minute trailer.
“MacGruber” isn’t a complete disaster. It is sporadically funny, but certainly not funny enough to justify the clamor I made over the trailer.
This film both reminded me why I generally avoid projects based on “Saturday Night Live” skits and clarified one simple fact: the most accurate thing I said in my “MacGruber” poster piece may have been the opening line, “With few exceptions, ‘Saturday Night Live’ skits don’t translate well to the big screen.” Sadly, “MacGruber” isn’t among those exceptions.
Val Kilmer plays Dieter Von Cunth, probably the most evocatively-named villain to ever grace a multiplex screen. Cunth’s resurgence onto the stage of world terrorism brings MacGruber (Will Forte) out of a 10-year retirement. Only Cunth, who murdered MacGruber’s bride (Maya Rudolph) on the couple’s wedding day, could motivate the ultra-badass MacGruber to abandon the simple lifestyle he’s adopted. After assembling a crack unit of commandos to hunt down Cunth and stop him from launching a stolen nuclear warhead, MacGruber accidentally kills the entire team (in a nice nod to the SNL skits).
Next he turns to team B, which includes Vicki St. Elmo (Kristen Wiig) and Lt. Dixon Piper (Ryan Phillippe). Team B performs decidedly better for MacGruber in that he doesn’t accidentally kill them. The writers use MacGruber’s “adventures” with Team B — and MacGruber’s antagonism with Cunth — to satirize every ‘80s action movie cliché conceivable. Many of those jokes work, too — especially in the film’s first half; they aren’t all knee-slappers (few are, in fact), but they at least keep “MacGruber” from becoming completely unwatchable. Otherwise, “MacGruber” is a hit and miss — and miss and miss — hodge podge of over-the-top vulgarity, gratuitous profanity and unfunny jokes with the complexity of a “Beavis and Butthead” episode.
This film shares a spirit with “The Naked Gun” films, but it badly lacks the cleverness of that series. In other words, MacGruber is no Frank Drebin; at best, he’s a trashy second cousin that should have remained content on the small screen, blowing himself up each Saturday Night like the ultra-absurd cartoon character he is.
And I should’ve known better.
. . .
Follow It’s Just Movies on Twitter at http://twitter.com/ItsJustMovies.