Tuesday, October 26, 2010
Starring: Will Forte, Kristen Wiig, Ryan Phillippe, Val Kilmer, Maya Rudolph
Running Time: 90 min.
★★★ (out of ★★★★)
Ever watch a comedy you just know is stupid (and I mean insanely stupid) but find yourself laughing uncontrollably through every minute of it anyway, possibly against your better judgment? Such is the case of my viewing of MacGruber, which could barely hold its own as a comedic premise for 90 seconds as a Saturday Night Live skit, yet somehow, someway works better as a 90-minute feature film. It's unlikely the audience who will get the most laughs out of this have even heard of the '80's action television drama MacGyver and that hardly makes a difference because this isn't really a spoof of that (Richard Dean Anderson surprisingly doesn't even appear). The skits on SNL are and it would be hard to sustain a full length feature comedy spoofing a retro cult show built around one joke. Luckily, this has many jokes, most of which are vulgar disgusting gross-outs that almost always hit their mark. Many will hate this with a passion and find it humorless, which is understandable because what anyone finds funny is so specific to that viewer. Basically, if you liked Hot Rod you'll like this, and if you didn't, then you'll hate it. That makes perfect sense since the same uncredited writer on that film (SNL writer Jorma Taccone) directed this one and it features the same dry but perverse sense of humor. If nothing else, everyone can maybe at least agree on one thing: Val Kilmer is the man.
If not for the hilarious opening credit theme song it would be difficult to tell within first few minutes that this is a comedy because the unusually detailed (at least for type of a film) plot is presented so straight it could easily be mistaken for an actual episode of MacGyver. Believed to be dead but really retired special ops agent MacGruber (Will Forte) is called back into action by his boss, Col. James Faith (Powers Boothe) when it's discovered his arch-nemesis Dieter Von Cunth (Kilmer) has recently gained possession of a nuclear warhead. The two have a bitter history revolving around MacGruber's deceased girlfriend Casey (Maya Rudolph), depicted in some pretty memorable flashback sequences. To thwart Cunth's plan and stop him from obtaining the pass codes needed to launch the rocket, he assembles a crack team of WWE wrestlers who he accidentally kills with his own supply of C-4 explosives. This ends up being a blessing in disguise since it spares us from seeing these guys attempt to act past a single scene or two and sets up a couple of good jokes later about the ridiculous circumstances surrounding their deaths. In their place he recruits longtime friend Vicki St. Elmo (Kristen Wiig) and more reluctantly stoic newbie Lt. Dixon Piper (Ryan Phillippe), and leads them into battle against Cunth with a variety of silly strategies that make sense to only him.
The laughs don't fully pick up steam until St. Elmo and Piper are officially added to the team, at which point the script goes on a hot streak of clever jokes and sight gags that don't subside for over an hour straight. Most center around MacGruber's delusional strategy for successfully executing the mission, which includes proudly letting Cunth know he's actually alive, sending St. Elmo into a death trap disguised as himself and using Dixon as a human shield. Just about the only commonality the plot shares with its TV influence is MacGruber's penchant for executing escape plans with common household items since he doesn't carry a gun, though I doubt MacGyver would have ever come up with a use for a celery stick that's as creative or disgusting, not that he'd want to. Phillipe somehow finds a way to keep a straight face through this entire thing while Wiig, the only actress not named Tina Fey or Anna Faris who's legitimately funny, plays St. Elmo with the perfect mix of gullibility and cluelessness.
But with his dry, droll line delivery and deadpan reactions to MacGruber's schemes, it's Val Kilmer who owns the movie, which shouldn't surprise anyone, but will anyway, since no actor has done more and gotten less credit than he has throughout his legendary career. Whether he's American rock idol Nick Rivers in the cult comedy Top Secret!, punching out Tom Cruise on the set of Top Gun (if it's okay with him I'd like to retroactively insert the phrase, "And THAT'S for Katie" after he lands the blow), playing Madmartigan in the '80's fantasy classic Willow, embodying Jim Morrison in The Doors, Doc Holiday in Tombstone, surviving Batman Forever, more than holding his own with Pacino and DeNiro in Heat, trying to outcrazy Marlon Brando in The Island of Dr. Moreau, taking on the role of Simon Templar in The Saint, believably playing a blind man in At First Sight, a tattooed meth addict in The Salton Sea, porn star and alleged murderer John Holmes in Wonderland, protecting the President's daughter in Spartan or playing a gay private investigator opposite Robert Downey, Jr. in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Kilmer has never phoned anything in and even this silly role is no exception. Just his presence as the heavy (in more ways than one) is hilarious enough, but as usual he doesn't stop there. Many actors probably would have just cluelessly hammed it up, but not the brilliant Kilmer, who approaches this dead seriously as if he were really a dangerous mercenary in a hardcore action thriller. Because of him, everything Forte does as MacGruber (and he has this goofy character down pat) becomes that much funnier. This wouldn't have been nearly as entertaining with anyone else as the villain, as the hilarious climactic showdown proves. Here's hoping he soon gets a part (not this) that launches a Mickey Rourke-like comeback because no one's more overdue for respect. He'll be unfairly mocked and criticized for taking this but no one can say he didn't go all out like he always does.
Having seen the unrated cut, not the R rated theatrical one, I couldn't tell you exactly how much further this version goes but it really paid off for them to go as far as possible because nothing would have hurt the film more than holding back on the vulgar humor. Also, bonus points for the very appropriate '80's soft rock soundtrack featuring Toto and Mr. Mister, as well as the year's best graveyard ghost sex scene. Maybe it's faint praise to call this one of the stronger SNL big screen adaptations when it's competition includes Superstar, Stuart Saves His Family, A Night at the Roxbury, The Ladies' Man and It's Pat (which I still say had POTENTIAL as a movie idea), so we'll just call it Lorne Michaels' best effort since Wayne's World, even if it's dumb but clever humor more closely resembles Airplane! MacGruber is the rare TV-to-film spoof that wears out its welcome in smaller doses but benefits from a larger platform for its stupidity to run wild.