Review: MacGruber

“I don’t know what I’m doing!”

Will Forte’s version of the idiot-manchild-as-hero surpasses Will Ferrell’s only by virtue of having been seen in fewer films. Both can be annoying, and with the wrong script, downright aggravating (Forte’s The Brothers Solomon was such a train wreck). Last Summer’s biggest gimmick comedies, Year One (Jack Black in animal skins) and Land of the Lost (Ferrell in another dimension), were crushingly bad;  by comparison, Forte’s MacGruber (if ever a title deserved to be followed by an exclamation point, this is it), seems like a piece of comic genius. Such a statement requires some clarification.

Based on Saturday Night Live “MacGruber” sketches that last roughly a minute and a half, the 95-minute feature holds up surprisingly well given its complete lack of maturity, depth or wit. If you are not a fan of puerile, scatological or sexual humor, frequently bracketed in repeated versions of a handful of four-letter words, you should still be able to appreciate the consistency of MacGruber‘s very specific brand of comedy. And perhaps you’ll like the constant lampooning of 80’s action films and television. But if you are a fan, you should have a grand time.

MacGruber (Forte) is working as a monk in a South American village when Col. James Faith (Powers Boothe, clearly enjoying himself) pays a visit. MacGruber has a long and illustrious history in numerous branches of the Armed Services (among his many decorations are “16 Purple Hearts”), but gave it all up when his fiancée Casey (Maya Rudolph) was killed at the altar. Faith wants MacGruber’s help in stopping evil mastermind Dieter von Cunth (Val Kilmer), who has hijacked a nuclear missile. At first MacGruber refuses, but after a change of heart pulls out his old gear, cuts off just enough hair to recreate his former mullet, and assembles a team of roughnecks to take down Cunth.

(At this point, anyone who doesn’t get the basic parody is going to be awfully confused. See, there was this television show called MacGyver back in the mid-eighties, where a secret agent would take down assorted criminals and terrorists with normal household items – thread, bobby pins, chewing gum – and MacGruber takes that gimmick to a ridiculous level.) He begins by creating his own personal brand of plastic explosive which…well, let’s just say that soon he has a new team, made up of straight-laced Army Lt. Dixon Piper (straight man Ryan Phillippe) and old friend Vicki St. Elmo (Kristen Wiig), who just happens to have been at that fateful wedding years before. But MacGruber’s tactics don’t just include fashioning makeshift weapons;  what he can do with a piece of celery will astound you.

Like a handful of comic actors, Forte clearly has no shame, and knows no fear.  In MacGruber he indulges every bad behavior, childish outburst and chance to shed clothing with glee. Wiig is terrifically deadpan in a mostly reactionary role;  MacGruber keeps placing Vicki, in various disguises, in the deadly path of Cunth’s team of expert killers. She also makes the most of a tailored leisure suit (with vest). Phillippe gets to play appropriately bewildered and disgusted by MacGruber’s methods. Val Kilmer seems to be playing serious until a couple of face-to-face scenes when he cuts loose, and makes a terrific foil for Forte’s nonsense. There are also cameos by a half-dozen WWE wrestlers that are quite funny: Chris Jericho smoothly handles an overly homoerotic exchange with Forte, while The Big Show (that’s how he’s billed, folks) may be part of one of the best visual gags in the film.

Strictly silly and not terribly memorable, MacGruber does have a substantial and unwavering ability to make you laugh, often out loud. It gets the Summer season off to a much better start than last year’s comedic failures. But to be fair, any film that can simultaneously abuse and lampoon the overused montage scene, make fun of the use of hard rock music during mundane moments and re-use jokes repeatedly with confidence, deserves a look.

[MacGruber opens wide today in Dallas.]

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