Jorma Taccone's MacGruber
Here's the link to the published version of the review in my column at The Richmond Examiner:
Jorma Taccone's "MacGruber" is a great example of just how far "Saturday Night Live" has fallen in the last several years. A show that once held great comedic talents has withered away into an unfunny batch of lame skits. As has always been the tradition, there have been movie spinoffs from certain skits, some more successful (and funnier) than others. MacGruber is a relatively recent character creation, first appearing in 2007, and now, in a desperate attempt to recapture some of that past glory, the skit has been made into a movie.
The film begins with the hijacking of a nuclear warhead. Col. James Faith (Powers Boothe) decides that there is only one man who can retrieve it, that man being MacGruber (Will Forte), who has apparently saved the country countless times. It is believed that MacGruber's old nemesis, Dieter Von Cunth (Val Kilmer), is responsible for the hijacking, so MacGruber must put together a team, including Lt. Dixon Piper (Ryan Phillippe) and Vicki St. Elmo (Kristen Wiig), to locate and stop Von Cunth before it is too late.
Even if you didn't know that this was based on a skit beforehand, you would easily be able to tell that it is. It has the feeling of a two-minute sketch that has been stretched out to an unbearable length by adding in as many crude jokes as possible. After approximately 80 laugh-free minutes later, this leads to much rejoicing as it finally comes to an end.
It's filled to the brim with several embarrassing performances, most especially from Will Forte. He seems to think the material is funny, or perhaps he knows the material isn't funny, but he thinks that if he really overplays it, it might at least get a chuckle. Sadly, he has no such luck as nothing in the film garners even the smallest smirk.
It seems that the writers, Forte, John Solomon, and Jorma Taccone, were going for a style of comedy in the vein of Leslie Nielsen, comedies that are somewhat dumb, but are still quite funny such as "Airplane!" or "The Naked Gun." "MacGruber" gets the first part of that down very well, but then tries way too hard to force it, making us feel every ounce of desperation that the filmmakers are feeling.
It certainly doesn't help that every other joke was either sexual or scatological. It at least tries to set up an interesting plot in the first third of the movie, but then quickly loses its way as it forgets about the plot to focus on the low-brow level of humor. Once it gets to this section, the pacing becomes completely shot, making the film feel like itís at a constant standstill.
There have certainly been good movies based on SNL skits in the past. Take "The Blues Brothers" for example. This is probably the best example of a skit-turned-movie that SNL has come up with. It has lots of talent involved and throws in some laughs along the way, but doesn't try to force it. "Wayne's World" is another good example of how good the transition can be when the right skit is chosen and the right talent is involved.
Luckily it seems that people have not taken the bait when it comes to "MacGruber." It severely underperformed at the box office, so hopefully we won't be seeing anymore SNL skits stretched into films anytime soon. If we're lucky, this will teach these and other filmmakers that it takes a little more than jokes involving sex and excrement to make a comedy. 1.5/4 stars.
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