Believe me, I was as skeptical as you were when Lorne Michaels decided that the first movie in a decade to be based on a Saturday Night Live character would be MacGruber, about a guy who's a one-note parody of MacGyver and whose main appeal is in blowing up at the end of every 90-second sketch. There's pretty much nothing in the MacGruber movie that resembles the character we saw on TV, but that's pretty much all for the better. Opting for an utterly over-the-top action movie parody rather than a faithful interpretation of the SNL sketch, MacGruber is childish and ridiculous and far funnier than you're expecting.
The fact that it's funny at all is a huge relief given the shaky track record of SNL movies, and the fact that co-writer and director Jorma Taccone was handling a feature for the first time. He and fellow writers John Solomon and Will Forte (who also stars, of course) bring to MacGruber a crazy bravado, one part loving tribute to 80s and 90s action movies and one part frantic anything-for-a-laugh wit, that propels the movie forward in a rush of butt jokes and shoddily choreographed action. In the same way Wayne's World got you laughing at easy jokes and total non sequiturs, MacGruber slaps a few extra winks and nods on top of comedy you already know and sells it completely.
The central joke of the film is MacGruber himself, recipient of sixteen Purple Hearts and countless medals of valor, bomb expert and martial arts master, and pompous, homophobic ass with a mullet and a puffy vest. Dragged back into action by the stern Col. Faith (Powers Booth), MacGruber must team up with straitlaced Lt. Dixon Piper (Ryan Phillippe) and his loyal old cohort Vicki St. Elmo (Kristen Wiig) to stop the diablocial, ponytailed Dieter von Cunth (Val Kilmer), the very same super villain who killed MacGruber's fiancee (Maya Rudolph) years ago on their wedding day. This could easy have been the plot to an old Chuck Norris movie, and everyone in the film except MacGruber plays it exactly that way-- straight faced and solemn, somehow putting their faith in a guy who never even learned how to handle a gun.
Best of all at keeping a straight face is Kilmer, who is so very in on the joke that the ugly ponytail is his own hair; puffy and squinting, he's nothing like the matinee idol of the 90s but totally winning as a competent villain who can't help but be dragged down to MacGruber's level. Phillippe is doing essentially the same duty as Piper, the frustrated know-it-all forced to listen to MacGruber, and while it's nice to see him unclench his jaw and have fun for once, he can't quite equal Kilmer's insane commitment. Wiig, as always, is a bizarre gem, playing a woman who left her job as a mercenary to pursue a singing career, who fans out her hair in Farrah Fawcett waves, and who falls for MacGruber even after watching him distract the bad guys by running around naked with a stalk of celery jammed up his ass.
That celery gag might not sound all that promising on its own, but the magic of MacGruber is that it throws together a bunch of so-so jokes-- sex with a ghost, using your friends as human shields, ruining a poker game you're not even in-- and, with deft editing and an entire cast with gifted comic timing, makes something hilarious. Forte's commitment to the character is what makes the movie possible, but what really makes it fly is how he makes room for the rest of the cast, frequently letting other characters be the funniest parts of the scene. You could almost imagine the movie as just a straightforward action movie parody, entirely separate from SNL, but MacGruber pulls off what virtually no other character from that show has managed to do-- he makes you want to see more of him.
Reviewed By: Katey Rich