One of the few good aspects of Saturday Night Live’s long, slow descent into complete irrelevance has been the lack of any films based on the venerable show’s sketches. After eleven releases between 1990 and 2000, of which only Wayne’s World even approached watchability, there were none in the last decade. Jorma Taccone’s Macgruber is proof that this was probably for the best. Basing a film on a mediocre recurring sketch from a now irrelevant TV series that satires a TV series that has been off the air since 1992 never seemed like the best idea, but even I was shocked by how awful the film really was. Macgruber is not simply unfunny; it actually lacks almost anything that I could actually think of as an attempt at a joke.
Will Forte reprises the roll of Macgruber, a retired member of various elite special forces groups who specializes in the use of household items as weapons. Ten years ago, his wife (SNL alum Maya Rudolph) was murdered by Macgruber’s former friend turned arms dealer Dieter Von Cunth. I’m going to stop for a second and point out something about this film. As I said earlier, there are few things here that could even be construed as attempts at humor, and I’m pretty sure naming a character Cunth was one of them. Now, imagine that name being said roughly one hundred times with the same five or six initially unfunny sex jokes being thrown in beforehand. There, that’s it. That is all of the humor that you will find in this film. Dieter is played by Val Kilmer, who has proven to be a great comedic talent in recent years, and when Val Kilmer can go through an entire comedy without drawing a laugh, you know something is wrong. Anyway, Macgruber comes out of retirement at the behest of the military when Dieter obtains a Russian nuclear missile. He puts together his old team (inexplicably made up entirely of cameos from WWE stars), but accidentally blows them up and is left with ditsy Vicki St. Elmo (Kristin Wiig, also reprising her character from the sketch) and straight edge Lt. Dixon Pepper (the always insufferable Ryan Phillippe, whose comedic timing somehow manages to be worse than his dramatic timing). Of course, they have some conflicts and romances along the way, and eventually they stop Dieter from blowing up Washington and Macgruber is able to fall for Vicki and get over the loss of his wife. The film is nothing if not predictable, and if you’ve seen the trailer, it really shouldn’t matter that I just mentioned the ending because I would at least hope that you were able to see it coming.
The generally positive early reviews have all praised the film’s humor, which is why I was so surprised by just how unfunny Macgruber really was. I don’t mind if the humor in a movie is juvenile or crass (I will never deny enjoying the two Jackass films) and parody, despite a weak recent record, can lead to great comedy, but Macgruber’s problems go far beyond that. For a film like this to be funny, it would have to be surprising and original. Is it original to name a character after a dirty word? Of course not. Was it surprising to see Macgruber walking around with a piece of celery hanging out of his behind or killing henchmen by ripping their throats our? Actually, no. Maybe I was just dulled into listlessness by that point of the film, but those last two examples (as far as I can tell, the only other attempts at humor in the movie) seemed like nothing but cheap attempts at shock humor.
The film’s flaws go beyond the type of humor. As a character, Macgruber is a one-note joke who usually wears out his welcome by the end of a 90 second skit and was already completely played out before being used in a Pepsi commercial last year. Forte plays that note well, but it isn’t enough when the story goes beyond the standard skit length. There’s also the fact that this film is a parody of Macgyver, a semi-popular television show that had ended before much of the target audience was born and has no real ironic or nostalgic value compared to other series from that era (even so, a MacGyver film is apparently in production). Combining that with the movie’s SNL basis makes it seem more irrelevant and pointless than anything. And I don’t mean pointless in the amusing way. I simply can’t think of a reason for this film to exist. Even if Forte, Taccone and John Solomon, the third writer, were simply trying to be as outrageous as possible (which seems possible and is at least a semi-admirable goal), they failed. Macgruber is essentially as safe and tame as the recent seasons of SNL, except with a few extra swears and a bit of blood. Film is an expensive business, and, in my mind, the worst thing you can say about a major film is not merely that it is an ugly, artistically devoid and humorless piece of trash (all true in this case), but that there is simply no reason for the movie to exist. Macgruber is completely irrelevant in almost every possible way, and I really must ask why it was made in the first place. I still don’t think anything will actually top Alice In Wonderland as the worst film I’ve seen this year, but Macgruber at least proves that something could come close.
Macgruber is rated R for strong crude and sexual content, violence, language and some nudity.
It opens everywhere on May 21, 2010.
Directed by Jorma Taccone, written by Jorma Taccone, Will Forte and John Solomon; director of photography, Brandon Trost; edited by Jamie Gross; music by Matthew Compton; production designer, Robb Wilson King; produced by Lorne Michaels and John Goldwyn; released by Universal Pictures. Running Time: 1 hour 39 minutes.
With: Will Forte (Macgruber), Kristin Wiig (Vicki St. Elmo), Ryan Phillippe (Lt. Dixon Piper), Val Kilmer (Dieter Von Cunth), Powers Boothe (Col. James Faith) and Maya Rudolph (Casey).