There are one joke movies and then there are the SNL skit movies like “It’s Pat” that stretch a thin premise out to ninety minutes and then there is “MacGruber,” a spy spoof starring Will Forte as a secret agent ready to save the world with only a couple of celery stalks, some dental floss and a tennis ball. Similarities to “MacGyver” are intentional, but only the tip of this all-80s parody.
As the movie begins MacGruber has been in retirement for ten years since the murder of his bride (Maya Rudolph) on their wedding day. He is pulled back into the fray when it appears that his arch enemy—Val Kilmer playing a bad guy whose name cannot be repeated here for fear of having to wash my mouth out with soap afterward—may have gotten his hands on a nuclear warhead. Using their wits (and the above mentioned celery stalks) MacGruber, along with his Blaupunkt car radio, cherry red Miata and cohorts Vicki St. Elmo (Kristen Wiig) and Lt. Dixon Piper (Ryan Phillippe) must stop him before the State of the Union address.
Like the television character it is loosely based on “MacGruber,” (the movie, not the man) aims to use odds and ends to cobble together a weapon capable of slaying the SNL skit movie curse. It’s not entirely successful, but as a parody of 1980s action films—and the fashions of the 1980s, the cheesy soundtracks of the 1980s and that decade’s cavalier attitude toward movie violence—it has its moments just not enough of them.
First the good stuff. The casting of Powers “Red Dawn” Boothe as a tough talking army colonel is inspired, as is the prerequisite “getting-the-team-together montage. Also great is the dialogue, the kind that used to roll off the tongue of sweaty action stars like Jean-Claude Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren. “He can be quite a fly in the ointment,” says MacGruber, “so let’s get a couple of fly swatters.” Those lines, played straight as an arrow, and coupled with some crazy non sequiturs provide many of the film’s laughs and there are many laughs, until the movie starts to rely a bit too heavily on bathroom jokes. This movie is more consumed by bums (and their contents) than a diaper designer. Imagine if JCVD told poo poo jokes in “Double Impact” and you get the idea.
Up until the introduction of celery stalks to a place where the sun doesn’t usually shine, the movie is a silly homage to the excess of 1980s b action movies, afterwards it’s an only occasionally funny homage to the excesses of modern sketch comedy—awkward pauses, pushing the joke past its breaking point and juvenile characters.
Forte is 100% committed to the role of the inept MacGruber, but his cocky, but insane take on the character gets tired after the first half hour. Wiig fares better. It seems she is incapable of not being funny even when the material isn’t up to snuff. Val Kilmer, who is looking more like mid career John Travolta all the time, hams it up, but doesn’t have the same comic verve he did in “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang,” but then, he had a much better script to work with that time out.
“MacGruber” has some laugh-out-loud moments, just not enough of them. It seems it would take more skill than Mcgyver to rescue this movie.