‘MacGruber’ takes a serious stab at comedy

Spoiler alert: The title character of the movie “MacGruber,” opening May 21, does not blow up every few minutes.

That would be a reasonable presumption, though, considering that’s always the outcome of the “Saturday Night Live” sketch on which the film is based and in which a rugged action-adventure hero gamely fails time and again to dismantle a bomb.

Starring “SNL’s” Will Forte as MacGruber and Kristen Wiig as his trusty sidekick, the film is rounded out with an unexpectedly straight-faced supporting cast, including Val Kilmer, Ryan Phillippe and Powers Booth.

The sketch’s slim premise is perhaps not the one most immediately apparent for a transition to the big screen. In expanding the idea, the writing team of Forte, John Solomon and Jorma Taccone decided to place the haplessly insecure MacGruber into a plot from a self-serious ‘80s-style action movie, like a second-tier Schwarzenegger-Stallone picture. The storyline of MacGruber coming out of retirement to chase down a nuke-stealing nemesis provides a framework for not only big explosions but also a free-form series of seemingly random gags — a vulgarly unpronounceable name, say, or a running joke involving a pullout car stereo.

“We had no restrictions placed on us,” said Forte, “so at every point we were set loose to do whatever the heck we wanted to. Every step of the way, we kept thinking, ‘Oh, they’ll make us take this out,’ and that day never came. It was truly the inmates running the asylum.”

In making an action- comedy intended as more homage than parody, the team behind “MacGruber” tried to take seriously the world inhabited by their ineptly self-absorbed hero.

“People hear ‘SNL comedy,’ and they immediately think everything will be brighter and goofier, people think you’ll make comedy choices,” said Taccone, “but it actually had to be the reverse of that in a lot of ways. We had to constantly be more subtle and not go for the things that would appear like we were making a comedy. We were trying to have the world around him feel like an ‘80s-'90s action movie and he’s just miscast.”