So how exactly do you squeeze a 90-minute feature out of a 90-second comedy sketch whose potential had already been exhausted weekly on TV? It's a dilemma that has plagued SNL-themed movies since The Blues Brothers; Lorne Michael's evil comedy empire has produced such one-joke debacles as The Ladies Man and It's Pat, meaning a mere glimpse of the dreaded Broadway video store logo is enough to inspire sphincter-clenching terror in even the heartiest movie fan.
So I'm happy, and somewhat stupefied, to report that MacGruber pretty much works, by going way over the limits of even late-night acceptability, and delivering a comedic payload of F-bombs more potent than the jerry-rigged gimmick explosives that the hero specializes in.
In case you've been doing something fun on Saturday nights for the last few years, the title guy is a parody of the '80s mega-cheese action idol MacGyver, a secret agent with a bizarre knack for improvising elaborate weapons out of household objects. SNL's Will Forte rocks Mac's trademark dishwater mullet and mountain-man attire and shares a penchant for gadgetry, but in every other respect he's a huge screw-up. This not-so-super spy is a seething mass of macho bluster concealing insecurity, cowardice, incompetence, a potty mouth and borderline psycho tendencies. In classic action-flick cliché, his hard-bitten former colonel ('80s tough-guy mainstay Powers Boothe) drags the defeated warrior out of self-imposed exile in order to stop the nuclear-missile-stealing madman who years earlier blew up MacGruber's fiancee at their wedding. A bloated Val Kilmer plays that baddie with goofy scene-stealing intensity, and even his character's unprintable name is a naughty joke.
Along with backup from Kristen Wiig, as pluckily innocent Vicki St. Elmo, and the usually stiff Ryan Phillippe as a by-the-books soldier, MacGruber bluffs and stumbles through gags like distracting enemies by sticking a celery stalk in his butt, jamming soft rock ballads in his Miata, and indulging in a pair of ridiculously gross, sweaty sex scenes, one involving a ghost.
Really there's no bottom to the foul language, poop jokes and surprising violence (Mac likes to rip out baddie's throats), all a send-up of the overheated machismo cramming the catalogs of Stallone, Segal, Van Damme, etc. In attention to genre detail MacGruber is on par with Team America: World Police, though there's not an ounce of real political punch in this satiric slapfight. MacGruber outlasts its premise by roughly 30 minutes, and the lead is sort of an unforgivable asshole, but there are enough jolts and juvenile amusements to help you resist the butt-squirming, twitchy-leg syndrome often created by comedic dregs.
Corey Hall writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].