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Non-Review Review: MacGruber

MacGruber features a villain whose surname is “Cunth”. That is the litmus test to see whether the movie will appeal to you.

Has MacGruber got a wire loose?

I realise that I am perhaps five years too late to ask this question, but does every comedy need to be so ridiculously crass and crude? MacGruber primary source of humour isn’t its original source material (Richard Dean Anderson as MacGyver), nor is it ridiculous eighties action clichés, although both would seem obvious choices given the movie’s basis and its origins. Instead, the movie derives the vast majority of its humour making various scatological references. I’m not a prude – indeed, I laughed along with most of the jokes – but it left the movie feeling like a one-note symphony, with the same key dirty jokes hit again and again and again. The movie seems aware of this, with both the sidekick and the villain taking the time to reprimand the hero for using the same lines, but it doesn’t quite justify it.

Beginning life as a Saturday Night Live sketch, MacGruber is a mystery man – a highly-decorated combat veteran who refuses to wield a weapon, and a tactical genius who appears to be barely literate. He is as thick as two planks, but the movie realises that this doesn’t really distinguish him from other comedy protagonists. Instead, the movie illustrates that he is really just a horrible, horrible person. In fact, the whole point of the movie seems to be to see just how much of a jerk you can make a comedic lead while still hanging on to audience sympathy.

MacGruber as portrayed by Will Forte is arrogant, self-righteous, cowardly, homophobic, cheap, selfish, cheating and manipulative. He is borderline psychotic, with sick and twisted revenge fantasies playing out in his head – to the point where the audience isn’t even sure that his character can be said to “mean well”. Indeed, the film itself makes a fairly solid case for MacGruber being the root cause of absolutely everything horrible that happens. I know that the unsympathetic comedic protagonist has become a genre staple (to the point where the exceptions are notable of themselves), but MacGruber seems a definite attempt to push the boat out – just how much of a horrible person can he be?

That said, the movie does have its charms. There’s something endearing about the perpetual eighties-ness of the film – from a portrait of Reagan on the Colonel’s wall to the car stereo MacGruber carries around to the use of Broken Wings for the inevitable eighties sex scene. It is enough to bring a smile to my face, even if I can’t help but feel like the premise wasn’t taken quite as far as it could have been. In fairness, the movie’s opening theme – the theme to the sketches, just set to epic choral music and climaxing with “we made a f*cking movie!” – was quite charming.

A little too explosive?

The cast also lends the movie some credibility. I’m not convinced that Forte can do more than sprout convincing one liners (on being told the bad guy is “untouchable”, MacGruber replies, “oh, I’ll touch him, newbie; I’ll touch him wherever I want”), but the role doesn’t demand that much more – still, the character doesn’t quite leap off the screen in the same way that truly successful Saturday Night Live film characters like those from Wayne’s World or The Blues Brothers did. On the other hand, Kristen Wiig has genuine comedic timing.

Ryan Phillippe and Val Kilmer are just the conventional actors along for the ride – perhaps with Kilmer’s presence serving as a cautionary tale to more troublesome actors like Ed Norton to straighten up and fly right. Both take the movie’s gutter humour in their stride – with Kilmer in particular letting loose with a great deal of over-the-top hamminess (he even wears an ascot). None of the cast is especially brilliant, but nobody is terrible either.

There are a few absolutely brilliant jokes in here, but – to be honest – they are quite spread out. What fills the sizeable gaps in between is a huge amount of incredibly crass toilet humour – most of it fairly basic and thoroughly unoriginal. If you can roll with it, it is reasonably entertaining – but it never feels truly substantial or essential. MacGruber is light entertainment – it’s loud and over-the-top, and I laughed quite a bit at it, but I don’t think I’ll be watching it again for a while. I won’t flick away from the television if it is on, but I don’t think I’ll actively seek it out.

It’s still the most watchable Saturday Night Live movie in well over a decade, and a reasonably diverting way to spend an hour and a half. Just don’t expect MacGruber to take a shedload of filthy, smutty jokes and a mullet and make cinematic magic out of them. After all, he’s not MacGyver.

5 Responses

  1. This is the one movie where I feel like everyone drank the Kool-Aid but me, or the other way around. I laughed my ass off the whole time, almost lost my lunch in the process. No idea why I found it so hysterical, but I am all about stupid humor done well, and this is about as stupid as it’s gonna get this year. Good review, man. Glad you didn’t hate it.

    • Thanks. It’s perfectly entertaining if you’re in the right frame of mind. Plus Forte makes him such a idiotic douchebag it’s quite impressive.

      Col. James Faith: They were nice funerals.
      MacGruber: Yeah. What did you think of my eulogies?
      Col. James Faith: Very touching. I might have cut back on the F-words a little.
      MacGruber: Well, they were fucking great guys. And this is a fucking asshole of a day.

  2. It was a movie, if you turn off your brain it is enjoyable just out of sheer idiocy.

  3. Sometimes it’s okay to be lowbrow. Maybe I was just in the right mood, but this had me giggling consistently, with several outright guffaws. Included one of the funniest sex scenes I’ve ever seen. Good review, check out mine when you can!

    • Don’t get me wrong. I didn’t hate it. And the sex joke is hilarious, but I think it goes on too long.

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