REVIEW: Kitsch Overload, Sparse Laughs Weigh Down MacGruber
Every era has its excesses, its mullets, its chunky removable car cassette players, its Quarterflash. But MacGruber, the feature-length comedy adapted from the strange, slender recurring Saturday Night Live skit, relies too heavily on the idea that the past -- corny, irrelevant, suffering from chronic bad taste -- is funny by itself. The drag is that when you've seen one Blaupunkt, you've seen them all.
MacGruber is a spoof of the mid- '80s TV show MacGyver, in which Richard Dean Anderson played a special agent who frowned upon the use of guns, preferring to solve thorny problems via "nonviolent resolution" and the use of a Swiss Army knife. Will Forte's MacGruber is similarly principled: He may be an explosives expert (as well as a former Navy Seal, Army Ranger and Green Beret), but he would never resort to firearms, preferring to rip the throats out of his victims with his bare hands. Such mad skillz have made him extremely valuable to the U.S. military. And so when a potentially deadly something-or-other is stolen by a puffy-faced Val Kilmer (his character's name is Dieter von Cunth, which is kind of funny the first few times you hear it, in a junior-high school cafeteria kind of way), MacGruber is lured from his self-imposed retirement by Col. James Faith (Powers Boothe) and his lieutenant, Dixon Piper (Ryan Phillipe, who, as the movie's straight man, is funnier than most of the actors who are actually trying to be funny).
MacGruber is a man with a past: It turns out that many years ago Cunth murdered his bride-to-be (Maya Rudolph, appearing in just a few soft-focus shots). Even though MacGruber pledged never to give his heart to another, he clearly has the hots for his almost-wife's best friend, Vicki St. Elmo (Kristen Wiig), and why not? In her high-waisted jeans-and-vest outfits, with her feathered hair and sparkly blue eye shadow, she's everybody's dream girl of 1978.
Vicki is also a highly trained special agent, which means MacGruber gets lots of chances to unnecessarily endanger her. In places, MacGruber is crude, mildly silly fun. The director is SNL writer Jorma Taccone (who's got to have one of the most gloriously fake-sounding names in show business); the script is by Forte, Taccone and another SNL writer (with a disappointingly nondescript name), John Solomon. Watching MacGruber, I laughed two or three times, possibly four, particularly when MacGruber comes upon a dead baddie and identifies him for the audience's edification: "Hoss Bender! Dead at the age of who-the-fuck cares."
But MacGruber never gathers any momentum. Once in a while a funny line or absurd sight gag will amble into the foreground, only to recede immediately in the rear-view mirror of memory. Forte is handsome enough -- he's ruggedly chiseled and all that. But watching at him strut about, in his quilted vest and plaid-shirt getup, wearing a retro hairdo that's simultaneously too-pouffy and too-matted, becomes exhausting after a while. The movie is also conspicuously lacking in gadgety ridiculousness: At one point MacGruber drags out a box full of rubber bands, Q-tips and the like and proceeds to fiddle around with them -- sticking a penny into his belly-button, for example, presumably on the assumption that it will come in handy later. Later, when faced with the task of disarming an explosive in 1.2 seconds or something like that, he panics at the riotous array of colors found in the tangle of wires before him. Here and there, he improvises: A leafy celery stick stuck pertly into a certain orifice momentarily distracts and astounds some evil-doers. But it doesn't do much to distract or astound us.
Kitsch abounds in MacGruber, particularly on the soundtrack: You'll hear enough Toto, Gerry Rafferty and Eddie Money to last the rest of your lifetime. But the only actor here who breathes any life into the movie's misguided nostalgia is Wiig. Although Wiig has been marvelous in many smaller parts -- among them Greg Mottola's coming-of-age comedy Adventureland and David Koepp's wonderful modern romance Ghost Town -- the scope of her cockeyed genius hasn't yet been tapped in a big movie role. In MacGruber, Wiig at least gets to rock her look: She's the kind of girl who's genuinely flattered by Farrah Fawcett wings and even, bizarrely enough, by twinkly blue eye shadow. Wiig's timing is, as usual, perfect in its wiggly-waggly way, even though the gags that have been written for her don't do it justice. Still, in those Landlubber flares, she's something to look at. In a movie with all the wrong moves, she marches to her own Tiger Beat.