Monday, June 14, 2010

Review - MacGruber

There are three or four scenes in MacGruber that are really funny – unfortunately, that's three or four scenes in a long ninety minutes, but I guess that's the nature of taking a sketch character and asking it to carry the weight of a feature length movie. MacGruber was created for brief skits on Saturday Night Live and this drearily unimaginative cinematic outing exposes an inevitable truth about the character: there simply isn't enough MacGruber to go around. The character is a spoof of MacGyver, the TV action hero renowned for his ability to construct weapons and explosives out of everyday items and to defuse bombs with seconds to spare. Will Forte, who co-wrote MacGruber and plays the lead role, nails the unshakeable self-confidence and righteousness of the character, while also playing him as a clueless coward, whose blundering idiocy is often a greater threat to national security than the villains he is out to thwart. There is scope here for a decent action movie send-up in the Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker mould, but to pull that off MacGruber would have needed to display a greater sense of wit and ambition than any of the three screenwriters can muster.

MacGruber instantly feels old in one of its earliest scenes, finding its hero in the kind of reclusive, Rambo-style retirement that has already been effectively spoofed in Hot Shots! Part Deux, and that's essentially the film's problem. Everything in MacGruber has already been parodied somewhere else and – more often than not – done in a much funnier fashion. Instead of finding some unexpected new slant on the material, the writers and director Jorma Taccone play it safe and go lowbrow, resorting time and time again to jokes about shit, gay sex and the fact that Val Kilmer's villain is named Dieter Von Cunth ("Let's go pound some Cunth" is about the level we're at here). Perhaps an even greater crime is how repetitive the film is, with many of the dismal jokes getting a second airing as the filmmakers desperately try to pad out the running time. If you thought the sight of Will Forte with a stick of celery up his arse was comedy gold, stick around for your chance to see noted funnyman Ryan Phillippe doing the same thing!

The film's best performance comes from Kristen Wiig, an actress who is often the best thing in whatever film she's appearing in, and who effortlessly manages to rise above her surroundings here. She plays MacGruber's colleague/love interest Vicki St. Elmo, and her ability to sell a gag with just her facial expression or the quivering tone of her voice remains a treat to cherish. She's at the centre of most of MacGruber's highlights, the moments when you catch a glimpse of the movie it could have been. There's a good scene in which Vicki acts as bait for Von Cunth in a coffee shop, and there's a hilarious sex scene which is probably the single funniest sequence in the movie. Elsewhere, the film shows the occasional flash of surreal invention or blissful silliness, like MacGruber's irrational obsession with a number plate, or the subtitle that translates "You're loco, man!" as "You're crazy, man!", but these are isolated bright spots in a film that sets pathetically low targets for itself and still manages to miss the mark.