The genesis of MacGruber is a long-running sketch from that staple of American comedy, Saturday Night Live. The skit is pretty simple: MacGruber, his assistant and a guest star are locked in a room with a ticking bomb, which MacGruber tries to defuse. The three argue, MacGruber gets distracted and everyone gets blown up.
I won’t lie, I’d never heard of it before. But after checking out some clips on YouTube (this sort of thing passes as ‘proper’ journalistic research in the Internet age), I can see why the skits attained a cult following. Some of them are pretty funny.
However, you don’t need a perceptiveness of razor sharp proportions to foresee the problems involved in turning a minute long, one joke sketch into a 90-minute movie.
As the name suggests, the MacGruber character was a parody of the much-maligned 80s TV show MacGuyver, a mulleted super-spy ubiquitous for his creation of gadgets through household items and an ever-present Swiss army knife. The film ramps this up to maximum and, basically, becomes a massive spoof of 80s action movies in general, with the Rambo and Lethal Weapon series particularly susceptible to ridicule. Think Hot Shots! Part Deux meets Austin Powers.
MacGruber also takes the other obvious ‘so what do we do now?’ fallback option of many TV-to-film comedy adaptations: toilet humour and lashings of it.
In short, this is one of the stupidest, most puerile films I have seen in a long, long time. The good news is it was also very funny. But then I’m a sucker for 80s action movies.
Will Forte (Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs) reprises his SNL role as the film’s eponymous lead, an ex-Special Forces agent who has been living a hermetic life in a South American monastery since his fiancée was murdered on their wedding day.
After a nuclear warhead is stolen, MacGruber has to come out of self-imposed exile to save the world once again from his nemesis, the evil Dieter von Cunths (see what I mean about puerile), played by the ably hammy Val Kilmer.
What follows is a spoof on every major 80s action movie cliché. We see MacGruber crying by his dead wife’s graveside in the rain, rejecting his pencil pushing new partner (Ryan Phillippe), an ‘assembling a crack team’ montage, being re-united with his assistant/love interest (Kristen Wiig), being kicked off the mission for being ‘too close’…the list goes on.
For those of a geekier disposition (and I’m thinking there may be a fair few of you out there, readers) this becomes a shower of comedic manna from heaven.
Forte subscribes to the very SNL style of the massively understated overstatement, as MacGruber’s all-consuming self-absorption makes him oblivious to any other possible interpretations of events and actions. There are also some great running jokes about MacGruber’s car stereo, his obsession over a rude motorist, how to use celery to distract your enemy in a fire fight and, of course, various riffs on ‘let’s go pound some Cunths’.
If you found that last line funny then there is a very good chance MacGruber is the movie for you. There is no subtlety here, just a constant blitzkrieg of gags delivered with such enthusiasm that it’s hard not to start warming to them. And once you engage with the inexhaustible silliness on display, you’ll be laughing along like a fool.
Hollywood has yet to really deliver a knockout comedy in 2010. It’s all been pretty average fair. And I can happily say that MacGruber is, by far, the funniest mainstream film I have seen this year.
It’s probably a one viewing pony, as I can’t envisage any hidden nuances that reveal themselves over time. This is as up-front and lowbrow as you can get. But I can see it performing strongly as a word-of-mouth counterpoint to the summer blockbusters.
An 80s-tastic, throat ripping send-up of the action genre, which is far funnier than it has any right to be.
MacGruber is released in UK cinemas today.