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MacGruber Proves R-Rating Doesn’t Make A Sketch Into A Funny Movie

Directed by Jorma Taccone
Written by Taccone, Will Forte, and John Solomon
Universal, 2010

MacGruber looked like a silly beacon of hope for the month of May 2010, which began with disappointment and looks to be one of the worst months of the summer season in recent memory, and with Sex and the City 2 and The Prince of Persia looming as this month’s final entries, we might have a month that rivals the worst Januarys on record.  Granted, I haven’t seen Shrek Forever After, but not being a fan of the first three, how was the fourth going to fill the void?

MacGruber is based on a Saturday Night Live sketch that made fun of MacGyver, in which Will Forte plays a bumbling action hero trying to diffuse a bomb while also getting into inappropriate discussions about race and homosexuality.  As such, the SNL sketches have far more comic material than the movie does, which instead of topical humor descending into political incorrectness, is focused on being a knowing take on eighties action flicks like Rambo, Lethal Weapon, and Die Hard.  This would be fine, except the movie’s “take” is making fun of the macho dialogue, making a ton of sex and scat jokes (with a smattering of R-rated curses), and occasionally going off the deep end a la the old Adam Sandler movies, only with no consistency.

The title character (Will Forte) has been presumed dead for many years and has been in hiding, but his chief bad guy rival Dieter Von Cunth (Val Kilmer, and yes, full stretching, bending, and breaking of his character name as a joke is made) has returned, stealing a nuclear weapon and aiming it at Washington D.C.  MacGruber is approached by Col. James Faith (Powers Boothe) to find Cunth and stop him, and hopefully use his right-hand-man Lt. Dixon Piper (Ryan Phillippe) in the operation.  MacGruber has some artificial hatred for Piper, and the movie takes a massive, unfunny detour in which MacGruber tries to hire his old gang of badasses, only to see them get blown up because of his ineptitude.  This is the movie’s first big mistake, as MacGruber’s team that could have been a source of potential comedy is then replaced by Ryan Phillippe, who is not a source of any comedy, any time.

Oh, well, the whole team isn’t blown up. There’s Vicki St. Elmo (Kristen Wiig), an old friend who used to be besties with MacGruber’s dead fiancee Casey (Maya Rudolph).  So, MacGruber, Piper, and Elmo track down Cunth and are always put in danger because of our hero’s bumbling.

Ultimately, you have maybe three laughs in the whole movie.  I liked the take on movie sex scenes, making everything seem really dramatic and perfect, when sex is usually anything but.  Every once in awhile, MacGruber says something off-the-wall that catches one off guard.  And there’s a great over-the-top death scene at the end.  The rest of the movie is just a failure.  The try for that eighties motif doesn’t nail it.  Forte would have been better off trying to just be Mel Gibson from Lethal Weapon the whole time, rather than “every action star in the eighties, ever.”  The lack of comic inspiration in this movie, and everything it does to kill potential comic inspiration, punched me in the gut.  May looks like an 0-fer.

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