do you miss most about action movies from the late 80's
and early 90's? Is it seeing a man face his enemies with
only his wits and a never-ending stream of serendipitously
placed objects? Is it the scenery-chewing pony-tailed or
foreign-sounding bad guys? Is it the gratuitous mid-movie
sweaty sex scenes that kept body-doubles across Hollywood
employed? Or is it just Shane Black and Val Kilmer?
your brand of nostalgia, if you've ever tied a bandana around
your head and sneered into a mirror or wondered how to create
a commercial landing strip with just a pile of pine needles
and a bumblebee wing, chances are you'll have something
to connect to in MacGruber, a raunchy send-up of
/ homage to the action-adventure movies and shows of the
80's and 90's that provides knowing laughs in some places,
and boring tedium in others.
It seems that 2010 will go down in history of the summer
of the scruffy underdog team, with The
Losers already in the bag and The A-Team
and The Expendables coming down the chute. In that
way, MacGruber comes at the perfect time, when
we've been reminded of how an 80's style movie works, but
haven't been beaten over the head with them.
In MacGruber, the shady villain Dieter Von Cunth
(Val Kilmer) has stolen a nuclear missile and the only man
who can stop him is the celebrated former armed-forces special
op, MacGruber (Will Forte), who went into hiding in South
America after Cunth killed his wife on their wedding day.
MacGruber assembles a team to do battle with Cunth (that's
right, let's say it again), and when that doesn't work out
he turns to non-master of disguise Vicki St. Elmo (Kristen
Wiig) and young military-school graduate Dixon Piper (Ryan
Phillippe) to stop the suggestively-named madman.
MacGruber began its life as a sketch on Saturday
Night Live that seemed to be a living testament to
the kind of 30-second-joke-in-a-five-minute-sketch curse
that kills so many good ideas on the show. The good news
is that the movie version breaks out of the constraints
of the sketch in a spray of blood, f-bombs, and bare asses
that gives it an advantage right out of the gate. The unfortunate
fact remains that, while its jokes hit more solidly than
any MacGruber sketch, the move threatens to maintain a similar
success-to-failure ratio to the SNL sketches.
The movie is less of a parody and is more just packed full
of nods to the "Rambos", "Lethal Weapons"
and "Die Hards" it borrows from. It stitches together
so many references to period action-adventure movies and
shows that it becomes easy to lose track after a while.
Some subtle references slide right by, like the background
music when things get serious, or the fact that one of the
scuzzy bad buys is chewing on not one, but two toothpicks
at the same time (doubly concerned about oral hygene).
MacGruber and his associates all live in an anachronistic
world of Chevy Malibus and removable car stereos, but the
supporting work of Phillippe excellently serves to ground
the characters in the modern setting whether they want him
to or not.
supporting cast of straight men is, in large part, what
lets the functional parts of MacGruber work so
well. After all, you can't have the likable screw-up redeem
himself to the audience unless he has someone to explain
himself to in the movie. The most well-played supporting
role of the movie would be Val Kilmer, who plays Cunth's
annoyance at having to match wits with someone who's as
inexplicably effective as MacGruber with hilarious perfection.
Like so many other SNL sketches before it, MacGruber
falls short in keeping things moving with new jokes and
energy throughout the entire exercise. The writers (John
Solomon, and Jorman Taccone, who are both involved in The
Lonely Island, along with Forte) have definitely studied
their source material, but too much comes grinding to a
halt so they can get some pesky "plot" out of
the way. There are scenes that seem to have been written
with the mentality that if they could squeeze in just one
more f-bomb in with the storyline, then they could rationalize
it as "funny". In some cases they were right,
just not as right as they needed to be.
When taken as a whole, there's enough good material for
a solid twenty-minute piece, and unfortunately most of that
can be seen in the trailer. The jokes that have the highest
chance of landing usually end up getting used twice, anyway,
just to make sure that you're paying attention. I don't
know if it means that I'm getting old, but when I see the
second bit that has a guy with celery sticking out of his
ass, it just doesn't do it for me anymore.
I have to say that I laughed at MacGruber. My initial
reaction to the trailers was that the movie looked like
it would be funnier than it had any right to be. In that
way I was correct. Somehow, Forte and company managed to
turn a skit that got tired after 30 seconds into a movie
that packs at least a passable number of good, dirty jokes.
I have to say that if you want something about a likable
screw-up that sends up the conventions of late 80's and
early 90's action movies, and has Val Kilmer in it to boot,
I'd instead watch Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang, the 2005
film written and directed by Last Boy Scout and
Lethal Weapon scribe Shane Black. It's a little
wittier and a little headier, but still has some funny things
to say about some silly, silly story lines.