A two-and-a-half star MacGruber movie? Not bad, seeing as most would expect significantly less. With rare exception, movies sprung from the birth canal of Saturday Night Live are regarded with suspicion and downright hostility, rightfully so after some of the horrors cast out into the world. But MacGruber, based on an SNL skit that featured a lame brained MacGyver wannabe whose incompetence frequently results in his own death, might have had a bit more wriggle room than most of its colleagues, seeing as the source material was so short that it allowed for a movie to be built from the ground up.
Will Forte stars as the titular MacGruber, a mulleted throwback to the 80’s and 90’s, a time where a certain dreadful television hero eschewed firearms in favor of homemade gadgets in order to save the day. Despite possessing some several hundred years of combat experience alone (if his resume is to be believed), MacGruber’s positive skill set can be boiled down into the ability to rip out a man’s throat with his bare hands, a talent whose demonstration thrives with the film’s very hard R rating. Otherwise, he violently shifts gears from dimwitted to semi-genius, though gross incompetence is standard either way.
After a decade of exile in a Ecuadorian monastery ala John Rambo, MacGruber is approached by former boss Colonel Jim Faith (Powers Booth, a good sport). His longtime nemesis Dieter Von Cunth (Val Kilmer, a good sport) has resurfaced with a nefarious plan to commit a crime big enough to warrant the movie’s plot existing. MacGruber has held a bit of a grudge against Von Cunth since the latter murdered the former’s bride, though the (quite understandable) explanation why becomes one of the pic’s biggest laughs.
In action hero fashion, MacGruber assembles a crack team of American’s best soldiers. Then, due to unforeseen and hilarious circumstances, his squad is reduced to rookie Lieutenant and straight man Dixon Piper (Ryan Phillipe, a good sport) and Vicki St. Elmo (Kristen Wiig, who as an SNL cast member doesn’t get good sport points).
Like even the better SNL skits, this film spends more time being funny than it does clever. It’s in the vein of Edgar Wright’s deliciously witty and exciting action-comedy homage Hot Fuzz, but unconcerned with an examination of genre or character development, preferring instead to aim for laughs with every shot. There’s little that’s not obvious or that puts an original spin on preexisting material, though it’s admirably efficient, and usually avoids gags that fail to detonate like one of MacGruber’s tennis ball grenades. Trouble is, all great comedy manages to be clever and funny at once, while the decent stuff usually only succeeds at one. Better than failing at both.
2.5 out of 5 stars.