Nick: As Saturday Night Live movies go, we have been gifted a wasteland
of bad jokes, out of date characterizations, and performers more suited
for the small screen showing their lack of big screen shops. I’ll go as
far as to say that there’s only one spin-off to have any merit at all
and I barely consider it an SNL product. The Blues Brothers. That’s it.
Wayne’s World is and always has been dreadfully annoying and the less
said about The Ladies Man the better. MacGruber is the latest, one that
could easily been the worst of the bunch due to the truly one note
premise of the skit on the show. A MacGuyver spoof, most episodes
focused on Will Forte as the resourceful hero getting caught up in
conversation too late to keep the bomb he’s been tasked to diffuse from
blowing up. It was a nice little time killer at a minute and a half.
Stretched out to feature length, the pitfalls are many. Additionally,
there are enough films that try and play with the action/comedy formula
already. It’s not an easy place to be.

Devin: It’s definitely not an easy place to be. I don’t know why someone would want to make a movie out of a repetitive, three minute long Saturday Night Live skit that’s making a joke about a TV show that had its moment in the popular consciousness about twenty years ago. I don’t know why they would want to do that, but I’m glad they did, since MacGruber is an incredibly funny movie – a raunchy, silly, bloody ode to 80s action stylings. And to Will Forte’s butt, which gets plenty of screentime.

MacGruber is a true American hero, but he’s been dead for ten years. Or so everyone thinks. Col. Jim Faith (the always amazing Powers Boothe) knows that MacGruber is alive in a South American monastery, and when supervillain Cunth (played deliciously low key by Val Kilmer, who is smarter than trying to compete with the hyper wackiness around him) gets his hands on the most powerful nuke in history, he recruits MacGruber from his self-imposed exile to save America.

Right from the start MacGruber, the directorial debut from Lonely Islander Jorma Taccone, makes its intentions clear; the films opening scenes are pitch-perfect comedic homages to every single 80s action film you have ever seen. From the music to the camera angles to the costumes, MacGruber nails it.

It does nail it, and tonally the movie does a good job of not losing its way and trying to be tidy or shift to formula in the last act as so many movies like this do. It also does a cute job of balancing the humor with some really absurd and dark gags and more traditional ones that keep things from getting too stagnant. Forte (who also co-wrote) does a good job of carrying the load but has no desire to turn it into an ego piece, allowing Kilmer to own the screen whenever he’s on as well as give straight man Ryan Phillipe and second lead Kristen Wiig plenty to do.

MacGruber as a character is a lot of fun due to his absolutely wrong ways of living his life and doing his job. He’s as uncool as they get, an absolute danger to all around him, and a man so caught up in his own shit that he’d put the entire world at risk through his lunkheadedness. People that go in there for dumb laughs will get them, but there’s a hilarious mean streak to some of the jokes here that bode well for the flick’s changes of holding up over time.

Saying the movie has some dark jokes is almost underselling it; the revelation of the origin of Cunth and MacGruber’s rivalry ends up in such a pitch-black joke that I almost couldn’t believe they went there. What helps keep the movie from becoming a dark exercise is Will Forte’s affability. The funny thing is that it’s his affability that I never liked on Saturday Night Live; he always seemed sort of middle of the road to me, and I never clicked with him. But middle of the road isn’t a dig in a movie where Ron Burgandy is on one side of the road and Kenny Powers is on the other; in the scale of buffoonish assholes, MacGruber falls right in between those two.

I also thought that Ryan Phillipe was great, playing a military wunderkind who goes from being a big fan of MacGruber to hating him to… well, to having MacGruber beg to suck his dick (and this is like first act business!). Phillipe, like Kilmer, lets the jokes happen around him. He understands the value of a good straight man, and he’s not mugging for the camera.

I think he seemed a little awkward in the first few moments, and I feared this was a case of career positioning rather than a good fit, but I agree. Phillipe gets better as the story progresses and he does a good job of keeping things moving without being the guy who points out things for the audience. I was actually disappointed in Wiig’s work, though there’s some great stuff where she’s forced to go undercover. MacGruber’s usage of decoys is very funny stuff and I wished they’d used it more.

The joke you referred to about the rivalry blew my mind. I was not expecting it to go where it did. And I loved it. Especially when Kilmer and Forte are able to play off one another in the third act.

It’s a fun time at the movies and though it seems a few polishes away from being classic, it enjoys its little playground and doesn’t seem interested in reaching further. Yes, the CGI blood spatter is obvious and the intentionally lame music cues get a little old, but it’s how an SNL movie should be: something that knows its place as well as the limitations of its source. It veers off from the show in all the right ways and doesn’t try and make the character into John McClane. MacGruber is a fuck-up from frame one to the end credits and it’s very difficult not to fall for him.

So many great bits that I think MacGruber is going to be a big rewatch staple for people who love good comedy. The note MacGruber hands to Wiig, the license plate running gag, the throat ripping, the two worst sex scenes imaginable… so much.

I love that the movie isn’t trying to just be a series of skits; the film builds to a scene that’s right from Saturday Night Live, but by the time we get to that ‘MacGruber, the bomb will explode in three minutes!’ moment, we’re kind of pumped and primed for it.

We can’t say enough about director Jorma Taccone. I first became aware of him with Hot Rod, which was written by Pam Brady (WGA officially), but which has the same fingerprints on it that are all over MacGruber. Taccone’s a good comic actor – I also loved him as the shitty Chaka in Land of the Lost – but his skills as a comedy director are impressive. Andy Samberg is the Lonely Island guy everybody talks about, but I feel Taccone is the guy whose work we’ll be interested in fifteen years from now.

But what’s important this weekend is that MacGruber is so fucking funny. So profane. So crazy. So much fun. Saying it’s one of the best Saturday Night Live movies ever is a cop out, since so many of them are awful, but I think saying it’s one of the funniest movies to hit theaters in a while is fair. I can’t wait to see this movie again.

Agreed. It’s rough around the edges but I wholeheartedly recommend MacGruber. And that surprises me, because Saturday Night Live features tend to be the antidote to comedy.

Now, if someone can mine the comedic talents of Val Kilmer more often. How many times does he have to prove how damn funny he is?