(by Dustin Putman
It's been ten years since the last "Saturday Night Live" sketch was turned into a feature film—that picture in question being 2000's understandably forgotten "The Ladies Man"—and in that time someone must have taken note that the best such adaptations are those that are designed to be more than just a series of skits stretched out to ninety minutes. "MacGruber," like 1992's "Wayne's World" and 1998's "A Night at the Roxbury" before it, takes vaguely drawn, one-joke characters and proceeds to not only expand their worlds, but also place them in something approaching a cohesive narrative. The results here are still hit-and-miss, but the hits are usually strong and the go-for-broke attitude of the overall production proves infectious. Article continues below
Ten years since fiancée Casey Janine Fitzpatrick (Maya Rudolph) got blown to smithereens on their wedding day, explosives expert MacGruber (Will Forte) is called out of his Equadorian seclusion to help the U.S. Special Forces with a dangerous top-secret task. Evil mastermind Dieter Von Cunth (Val Kilmer)—a man with past ties to MacGruber—has hijacked a nuclear warhead, and it's only a matter of time before he does something drastic with it. When his first enlisted team of experts are all killed in a freak explosion, MacGruber turns to the straight-laced Lt. Dixon Piper (Ryan Phillippe) and vivacious, ever-patient lady friend Vicki St. Elmo (Kristen Wiig) for help. Together, the three of them set out to investigate Cunth's whereabouts and intercept the weapon.
The plot is exceedingly elementary, and that's all the better for a film that aims to first and foremost spoof the conventions of stock action movies. Slyer and funnier than 2004's "Team America: World Police"—a similar, if more political, precursor—"MacGruber" is chock full of overwrought dialogue and clichés. "The game has changed," Col. James Faith (Powers Boothe) warns several times throughout, to which MacGruber intensely—and nonsensically—replies, "But the players are the same!" When MacGruber's first round-up of men meet a sticky end, he drops to his knees and screams, "No!" to the heavens. And, making mincemeat out of geography, MacGruber sets out in his red convertible for South Dakota from Washington, D.C. while listening to his favorite classic rock (Toto's "Rosanna," Gerry Rafferty's "Baker Street") and reaches his destiny as if the two locales were simply across town from each other.
Writer-director Jorma Taccone and co-writers Will Forte and John Solomon will do anything to earn a laugh—the sight of MacGruber humping a gravestone while in the throws of ecstasy may haunt me for years to come—but their crass humor somehow balances stupidity with smarts, much of the comedy so quick and subtle that it would take several viewings to catch it all. With that said, the opening thirty minutes start so energetically that it eventually loses steam in the second half, and some of the funniest scenes are the ones that don't wallow in the scatological. When Vicki St. Elmo poses as MacGruber in a coffee shop and is instructed through her earbud to retrieve the money she's just dropped into the tip jar, the sheer sight of her pulling out dollar bills and change in front of the slack-jawed barista is nothing short of comedically inspired.
Will Forte (2007's "The Brothers Solomon") is terrific in the title role, a good guy with more credentials than IQ points who isn't above offering sexual favors to his colleagues in order to get his way. Because Forte—and by extension, MacGruber—takes everything with a dead seriousness, it makes the delivery of his lines all the more charmingly absurd. As Lt. Dixon Piper, whose antagonistic relationship with MacGruber turns to respect and friendship—even when MacGruber is using him as a shield against gunshots—Ryan Phillippe (2008's "Stop-Loss") is an affable straight man. Val Kilmer (2006's "Deja Vu") is only sevicable as the villain, his reason for existence boiling down to his very name: Cunth. Maya Rudolph (2009's "Away We Go") is a hoot in her brief time onscreen as the ill-fated Casey Janine Fitzpatrick. Finally, Kristen Wiig (2009's "Whip It") continues to prove what a lovely talent she is, both in comedy and acting in general, bringing life to her every moment as love interest, aspiring musician and right-hand woman Vicki St. Elmo. More attention to the dippy, dirty, awkwardly sweet romance between her and MacGruber would have actually been preferred over the ultimate explosions and shootouts of the climax
Is "MacGruber" as good as the promise it held at the onset? Not quite. The jokes and pacing do lag as the third act approaches, and, with a budget of just $10-million, the production values (not counting the impressive soundtrack) are on the chintzy side. With or without a bomb detonating on the heroes at the end, the film culminates in a crowd-pleaser of a conclusion: a half-gleeful, half-raunchy montage of wedding photos scored to Michael Bolton's "Love Is a Wonderful Thing." Uneven though it can be, "MacGruber" feels less like a "Saturday Night Live" extension and more like its own original entity.