SXSW Review: MacGruber's Not A Friggin Genius

MacGruber is not, even for a second, half as clever as the SNL sketches it’s based upon. Instead it’s an unending string of easy scatological jokes which, despite being easy, it executes really, really well. There’s a sex scene in the latter half of the film that’s sure to be discussed endlessly, and it doesn’t hurt that all the shit references are set to a score composed primarily of perfectly hilarious light rock. Still, it’s hard not to be disappointed that they didn’t find something cleverer to do with this character. I’d have been happier with a movie comprised entirely of 90 second vignettes in which MacGruber gets inexplicably blown up again, and again, and again. That doesn’t happen; in fact almost none of the things anyone who’s seen the sketch is hoping for occur (though the theme song, at least, does cameo in a much less entertaining theatrical form). MacGruber doesn’t even attempt to defuse a single bomb. He does however rip out a few throats, and that’s enough to make MacGruber funnier than any SNL movie since Wayne’s World 2. Ok, it’s not exactly a stiff competition.

It stars a mulleted Will Forte as MacGruber, the character he originated on SNL, a pseudo-MacGyver clone who seems permanently trapped in a particularly bad 80s action movie. In the sketches MacGruber’s entire life consisted of trying to diffuse something, only to be distracted just long enough for the bomb to go off and kill them all. In the movie, he’s some sort of uber-commando hired to stop an evil plot by a villain named Cunth (Val Kilmer). That’s right, Cunth. That’s about the level most of the jokes in MacGruber work on. See it’s funny because his name sounds like a rude name for a woman’s vagina.

At least I know why Val Kilmer is in the movie. He’s there to look angry while people make fun of his name. I can’t, however, explain the presence of Ryan Phillippe who’s about as important to the film as a block of wood. I mean I guess he has a character arc, if by character arc you mean that at some point he discovers a new, disgusting use for celery. But really, his job is a thankless one, the useless straight man who stands around and looks angry while MacGruber does something dumb. In the sketches the third part of the MacGruber/Vicki triangle was essential. Shia LaBeouf’s turn in the part on SNL is legendary. Phillippe is, however, given absolutely nothing to work with.

It’s also worth noting that, though he appeared in the SNL sketch and though there was a part written for him into early drafts of the MacGruber script, Richard Dean Anderson does not make a cameo in the film. When questioned afterward director Jorma Taccone was reticent to explain his absence. If I were Anderson, I wouldn’t have done it either. The movie trades mostly on shock humor, and the primary question occupying Taccone’s mind seems to be what’s inside MacGruber’s ass. It’s less a MacGyver parody than Lethal Weapon with anal play. Still, as dumb as most of the jokes are, they play well in a big crowd. Taccone and Forte took a completely lunatic, ridiculous, concept and turned it into a bunch of dick jokes. It’s funny, and you won't regret seeing it, but I think enough of them to believe that they could have done better.

Josh Tyler