“MacGruber” won’t disappoint

Will Forte brings Saturday Night Live's clueless soldier of fortune to the big screen in the action-comedy "MacGruber." (Greg Peters/Rogue/MCT)

By Wren Culp

Staff Writer

Believe me, I was as skeptical as you were when I heard about NBC’s decision that the first movie in a decade to be based on a Saturday Night Live character would be MacGruber, about a guy who’s a parody of MacGyver and whose main appeal is in blowing up at the end of every 90-second sketch. Nothing in the movie resembles the character we saw in the TV series, but that’s all for the better. Perceived as an utterly over-the-top action movie parody rather than a faithful interpretation of the SNL sketch, MacGruber is childish and ridiculous and far funnier than you’re expecting.

The fact that it’s funny at all is a huge relief given the shaky track record of SNL movies, the last one being The Ladies Man, which was a disgrace of a movie, was handling a feature for the first time. Taking the funny character of MacGruber and bringing it to the big screen seems like a tough challenge for the writers, but things were executed beautifully.
The entire joke of the film is MacGruber himself, who is the winner of sixteen Purple Hearts and countless medals of valor, bomb expert and martial arts master, and a complete jerk with a mullet and vest. Called back into action by the stern Col. Faith, MacGruber must team up with stiff-minded Lt. Dixon Piper (Ryan Phillippe) and his loyal old cohort Vicki St. Elmo (Kristen Wiig) to stop the diablocial, ponytailed Dieter von Cunth (Val Kilmer), the very same super villain who killed MacGruber’s fiancee (Maya Rudolph) years ago on their wedding day. This could easy have been the plot to an old Chuck Norris movie, and everyone in the film except MacGruber plays it exactly that way– straight faced and solemn, somehow watching and believing in a guy who apparently has no idea how to use a gun.

Best of all at keeping a straight face is Kilmer, who is so very in on the joke that the ugly ponytail is his own hair; puffy and squinting, he’s nothing like the classic criminal of the 90s but totally winning as a once serious villain who can’t help but be dragged down to MacGruber’s level. Phillippe is doing essentially the same duty as Piper, the frustrated know-it-all forced to listen to MacGruber, and while it’s nice to see him unclench his jaw and have fun for once, he can’t quite equal Kilmer’s insane commitment. Wiig, as always, is just plain weird, playing a woman who left her job as a mercenary to pursue a singing career, who fans out her hair in Farrah Fawcett like waves, and who falls for MacGruber even after watching him distract the bad guys by running around naked with a stalk of celery up his butt.

That celery gag might not sound all that promising on its own, but the magic of MacGruber is that it throws together a bunch of clever jokes, using your friends as human shields, ruining a poker game you’re not even in and, with awesome editing and an entire cast with gifted acting, makes something hilarious.

Forte’s commitment to the character is what makes the movie possible, but what really makes it fly is how he makes room for the rest of the cast, frequently letting other characters be the funniest parts of the scene. You could almost imagine the movie as just a straightforward action movie parody, entirely separate from SNL, but MacGruber pulls off what virtually no other character from that show has managed to do– he makes you want to see more of him.