You know, it’s always comedies that I have the hardest time writing a review for. My reasoning for this is that humor is absolutely subjective. I cannot convince anyone that my sense of humor is unquestionably supreme. I cannot guarantee that what I construe as comedy will translate with equal efficacy to any other person. Hey, I was one of the only people who said anything even semi-complimentary toward “Cop Out.” You may debate my susceptibility to comedy until tomorrow, but that ultimately doesn’t get you very far: it’s just another person’s outlook.
Before even posting this review, I can already sense people getting riled up over my modestly positive review for “MacGruber.” Hailed as the best Saturday Night Live movie adaptation since “Wayne’s World” (and wouldn’t you know it, they were right), “MacGruber” is almost so indescribably absurd to put into words. The especially funny part is that this stupid little fact managed to charm me just enough to carry me through the whole film. Just like 2007’s Lonely Island effort “Hot Rod,” this movie is so mindless, so utterly disconnected at times that I couldn’t help but be interested in the directions it wanted to go.
In the Saturday Night Live sketches, MacGruber (Will Forte) is the alias of a special ops agent who is often placed with the responsibility of deactivating preset time bombs. Each sketch ends exactly the same: with MacGruber (along with everyone else in on the mission) getting blown up after procrastinating too long from the task at hand. Sounds riveting, doesn’t it? Actually, as ‘meh’ as it sounds, I’m somewhat a fan of these sketches. But…HOW EXACTLY do you translate this into a feature-length film? Each sketch itself usually clocks in at (the very most) three minutes. Well, I shall tell you how they do it.
A nefarious villain (Val Kilmer) unveils nefarious plan #8, which is to annihilate the world with the X-5 missile. As it turns out, this man is guilty for the gruesome death of MacGruber’s widowed bride-to-be (Maya Rudolph) during their wedding, and MacGruber’s subsequent retirement from special operations. This incident happened ten years ago, and now Pentagon employees are attempting to persuade MacGruber (who is now a spiritual monk living in Ecuador) to return to his old job. It is mostly out of rage and yearning for revenge that he finally decides to don the mullet and the vest one more time.
Other members sent to undermine this villain’s evil ambitions are Vicki St. Elmo (Kristen Wiig) and Lt. Dixon Piper (Ryan Phillippe). Vicki was a long time associate to MacGruber back when he was on duty. When approached to rejoin his team, she initially declines because she is developing a career of singing. She eventually accedes to the offer, singing that her music career “can wait.” Piper is a worker for the Pentagon in which MacGruber has a strong antipathy toward. Only after there is no other choice does he actually allow Piper into his squad.
Essentially from there, the plot is put on autopilot. But even with good SNL movies like “Wayne’s World,” the plot isn’t really what makes the movie. The important thing is whether or not it is funny. For me, “MacGruber” laughs come mostly as hit-and-miss, meaning that sometimes the movie was genuinely very funny and other times it appeared as if they were trying a little to hard to solicit a cheap laugh purely for shock value or to perpetuate an uncomfortable awkwardness.
On the good laughs side, I was at least pleasantly surprised at what the movie had to offer. For example, there is an incident near the beginning involving a ton of cameos by professional wrestlers and MacGruber rigging his van up with homemade explosives. Another comes when Vicki is sent into a coffee shop disguised as a decoy-MacGruber, with the real one feeding instructions over a BlueTooth headset. Sheer clumsiness ensues when Vicki’s kindly, good-hearted nature clashes with MacGruber’s self-absorbed insensitivity. Or what about a running joke involving MacGruber’s sadistic pursuits of a car who cut him off? Even if it doesn’t pay off with the greatest of ease, it’s entertaining how long the joke is kept up and how they still manage to make it funny.
But then it is something like Val Kilmer’s villain’s name that manages to fall flat in terms of mileage. The villain’s last name is basically just there to capture a few easy laughs, as his name sounds similar to a certain expletive. It isn’t too clever or funny the first time you hear it, and as they constantly repeat the name throughout the duration of the film, you get the feeling that the writers have too much confidence in their material. I wasn’t offended by the reference in as much as I was offended by the dim-witted context and ceaseless use of it.
The laughs usually come in this sort of pattern: a vulgar, cringe-worthy sequence of second-rate jokes followed by still rather raunchy, but startlingly funny gags. In my estimation, it equals out to about 55% authentic hilarity and 45% recycled R-rated crap that can be found in any National Lampoon spin-off of this decade. It’s hard to believe that this is considered a recommendation (and it is a minor one), but I do believe that the good far outweighs the bad. While not as consistently laugh-out-loud funny as “Hot Rod,” “MacGruber” still maintains an analogous charm that made me like the former in the first place. Don’t go in expecting to find any form of highbrow. This is mindless entertainment with a pinch of self-awareness for good measure.