Posts Tagged ‘MacGRUBER’

NEBRASKA: 4 ½ STARS. “A physical and emotional road trip.”

nebraska_DernForte632Who wants to be a millionaire? Woody Grant (Bruce Dern) that’s who. He’s a Don Quixote character of “Nebraska,” tilting at windmills, clutching a worthless ticket he thinks is worth a million bucks.

When we first meet Woody he’s walking to Lincoln, Nebraska from Billings, Montana. There’s erasable and then there’s Woody, a cantankerous man who thinks the “You may already be a winner” notification he received in the mail is a ticket to a fortune. But at the rate he’s going it will take him months, if not years to make the journey to claim his prize in person in a city two states away. “I’m going to Lincoln if it is the last thing I do,” he says.

After several failed attempts to hoof it to Lincoln, Woody’s son David (former “SNL” star Will Forte) offers to drive him. He knows the ticket is of no value but sees the trip as a way of spending some time with his father.

As father and son travel across flyover country, through landscape as weathered as Woody’s face, David pieces together fragments of his father’s life to form a fully developed picture of who the man he calls Dad really is. The trip is both physical and emotional.

“Nebraska” is a plain spoken but lyrical black-and-white film about a man grasping at a last chance for a legacy and a son who understands the ticket is worth more than money, it is the thing that gives Woody something to live for.

Sounds serious, and its ideas about how children interact with their aging, ill parents certainly have weight to them, but director Alexander “Sideways” Payne ensures the film is nimble and very funny in places.

The humour doesn’t come in the set-up-punch-line format but arises out of the situations. A scene of Woody’s gathered family—his elderly brothers and grown sons—watching a football game redefines the word taciturn but the subject of the sparse conversation, a 1974 Buick, is bang on, hilarious and will likely sound familiar to anyone with a large family.

Dern hits all the right notes, adopting the blank stare of a man overwhelmed by life for most of the movie. It’s a simple but effective performance in which Dern strips away almost all the artifice and presents a raw, unfiltered take on aging.

Dern shares virtually all his scenes with Will Forte. On the surface Forte’s casting is a strange choice. He’s best known as a comedian and while he has the odd funny line in “Nebraska,” he is primarily required to do much of the dramatic heavy lifting. It took me some time to divorce his most famous character, MacGruber, from what I was seeing on screen but soon enough his straightforward performance drew me in.

Supporting actors are carefully cast. Stacy Keach, who does a mean Elvis Karaoke, is suitably menacing as a former business partner who tries to cash in on Woody’s alleged new wealth and Tim Driscoll and Devin Ratray as thick-headed cousins Bart and Cole will make you long for the heyday of Beavis and Butthead.

Near the end of “Nebraska” there is one shot that sums up the reflective feel of the film. Peg (Angela McEwan), one of Woody’s ex-girlfriends, sees him in town for the first time in decades. They don’t speak, but the wistful look that blossoms across her rugged face perfectly visualizes the movie’s contemplative examination of a life lived.


macgruber_poster_mThere 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.