Whipping up a movie based on a "Saturday Night Live" sketch isn't inherently a bad idea; it just seems that way based on a track record that's, well, sketchy. There's "Wayne's World," and then there's a lot of "A Night at the Roxburys."
What probably appealed to the makers of "MacGruber" — co-writer/star Will Forte, and his writing collaborators John Solomon and Jorma Taccone, who also directed — was the idea that their mullet-sporting, special ops goofball almost cried out for the multiplex-sized mayhem treatment. He's an action star parody, after all, and while this jury-rigged exercise may not be an explosion of laughs, it's no dud, either.
The original "SNL" bits were tips of the hat to the '80s television mainstay "MacGyver," in which Richard Dean Anderson's crafty agent preferred the resourcefulness of paper clips and duct tape to guns when escaping certain death. Forte's sketches memorably added a maelstrom of focus-sapping personal issues so as to comically defuse the steely resolve of an ingenious hero. The MacGruber for the movies, however, retreats to a more standard adventure-spoof archetype: the delusional total idiot.
Drawn out of hiding by a Pentagon colonel (Powers Boothe) to stop a missile-armed archnemesis with a family newspaper-unfriendly name ( Val Kilmer), MacGruber is a good guy swimming in bad traits: by turns petulant, cowardly, egotistical, childish, jealous, homophobic, clueless, sadistic and desperate. (His default begging tactic is one of the film's funnier R-rated gags.) He's got a feather-haired gal with a crush on him ("SNL" regular Kristen Wiig, committed if underused), yet he's not above indulging in hilariously grunty cemetery sex with the ghost of his dead wife (Maya Rudolph). He's also quick to use Ryan Phillippe's Lt. Piper as a human shield. (A metaphor of sorts for Phillippe's straight man amid the silliness.) Perhaps the only thing heroically sweet about him is his sporty Miata and the '80s rock-pop playlist emanating from his removable car stereo, what he might just love most in the world.
With a role like this, creating an anything-goes vibe is half the battle. And Forte — a worthy post- Will Ferrell clown in both deadpan or outburst modes — handily establishes his gonzo comedy cred, especially when it comes to a useful celery stalk. Strategically if unsanitarily employed, it does the job of distracting MacGruber's targets. The same could be said for the agreeably diverting movie that shares his name.
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