‘Macgruber’ Blows up, Literally

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Will Forte brings “MacGruber,”  his late night parody of uber-resourceful TV-action star McGuyver, to a full-length feature; and while many jokes are recycled to oblivion, this movie is probably funnier than you thought it had any right to be.

Stemming from a rather limited plot (even for a comedy sketch), the story of MacGruber revolves around the threat of a nuclear warhead aimed at Washington, D.C. by Dieter Von Cunth (and yes, the last name is the brunt of many pronunciation gags). Having lost his wife to a previous Von Cunth bomb, and after losing his initial crew in a more amusing fashion, MacGruber amasses a posse of comically useless sidekicks to aid in taking Dieter down. The Saturday Night Live version of MacGruber – the “trapped in a room with a bomb that needs (but never gets) diffusing scene” – acts as the climax to the movie, the whole affair acting as a build up towards it. The story hits the imitation ’80s-cheese on the head, most of the best jokes coming from little insert gags made at the expense of the Day-Glo decade.

Unfortunately, when not making fun of the ’80s, many of the film’s jokes are either stretched too thin or weren’t funny to begin with. Moments you didn’t laugh at the first time – any of the film’s dozens of penis jokes, for instance – don’t age well with repetition, and some recur so frequently the film seems almost like a parody of its own parody. But stupid humor is an expected side effect of this film genre, and most go down harmlessly. Will Forte’s dimwitted MacGruber usually saves the movie from descending too far into schlock territory, but even his revisited gag of offering sexual services starts off stale and only gets older.

Luckily, the film’s best performances stem from those whose jokes come more from straight-faces than celery sticks out of buttcracks (the film’s joke, not mine.) Val Kilmer’s Dieter Von Cunth is as deliriously evil as you want him to be, and Powers Boothe makes for some great straight-laced wit as Colonel James Faith, the Pentagon’s answer to Von Cunth’s warhead threat. Ryan Phillipe’s turn as one of MacGruber’s cohorts is also one-note, but lacks even the dry humor bone thrown to most in his stereotyped position. Kristin Wiig rounds out MacGruber’s posse as Vicki St. Elmo, and quickly asserts herself as the film’s greatest asset, having the lion’s share of the funniest lines and delivering them with the perfect mix of sincerity and awkwardness. Given her track record as some of the best one-scene movie characters of the past five years, here’s hoping MacGruber is another step towards her getting her own feature.

Production-wise, MacGruber makes a surprisingly admirable push toward legitimacy. When not knee-deep in the bombastic cheesiness required of ’80s-Action parody, explosions go off with convincing zeal and bullets hit and sound as you would expect in a standard action film. Lighting and costume flip between modern setups to the moodier ’80s style with nary a hitch, and costumes solidly work with the scene and gags at hand. The soundtrack is your standard mix of orchestral and popular tracks, some 1980s pop finding its way in for good measure (and some even better jokes). In defense of the cinematography, McGuvyer wasn’t really known for its sophisticated camera artistry, so MacGruber’s toeing of its line keeps it competent, but pretty basic.

“The Best SNL Movie since Wayne’s World” may not be the largest buffet spread to sample from, but MacGruber plays it close to the cornball roots with pride. The production design is solid, and both Wiig and Kilmer are worth the ticket price alone. Despite some lackluster writing and boring character development, the film managed a watchable plot out of a lame SNL skit. Jokes hit at an estimated 60-40 ratio, and if you can stand stomaching a bad joke more than once, there’s little reason not to indulge in this tribute to a time when a paper-clip and piece of gum could make any item imaginable.

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