release date: may 21st, 2010
production budget: $10 million
u.s. gross: $8.5 million
foreign: $0.79 million
the first film to be based on a saturday night live sketch in ten years, macgruber came with a certain amount of hope. the original sketches, 2-3 minutes in length, are macgyver parodies that never became repetitive, unlike most recurring snl sketches. macgruber: the motion picture is directed by jorma taccone, one third of the lonely island, whose digital shorts are often the best part of the show.
the film has a promising start that would delight any fans of 80s cannon type action movies and 90s dtv movies: there’s the i.o.a.s. (inconsequential opening action sequence) establishing the macguffin (nuclear warhead) and the villain (named dieter von cunth played by a game val kilmer); there’s the pentagon headquarter expositions with a colonel played by action veteran powers boothe; and then there is the introduction of the hero, macgruber (will forte) who, like rambo, is now in a third world country trying to leave his former professions (green beret, navy seal, army ranger) behind, with personal tragedy in tow. of course, macgruber is the only man for the job and a personal connection to the cunth. there is also a montage of macgruber recruiting his former team members (all played by wwe wrestlers, and a pre-bridesmaids kristen wiig) for the mission. of course, there’s a young hot shot (ryan phillippe) who did not get along with macgruber at first, but eventually come to respect and learn from each other.
so there’s a good, funny fifteen minutes. nothing particularly original or unpredictable but nonetheless funny. the uniformed colonel seeking the eventual hero no doubt is inspired by rambo, too bad hot shots part deux got there first twenty years ago and has more jokes. but still, it keeps you cautiously optimistic.
unfortunately the film deflates quickly. after the above mentioned opening sequences, they seem to be more interested in the plot and the characters instead of keeping up with the jokes. the parody/satire element is forgotten and the movie turns into an actual 80s action movie. a movie like hot fuzz did a better job of balancing its characters and story and the parody/satire element. macgruber is more of either/or. a shame, since they are obviously better at one than the other.
there are a few things sprinkled throughout hinting at what the movie might have been. there’s the lethal weapon-ish jazzy, bluesy riff. macgruber gets shot at one point and there’s the taking out the bullet scene that we know and love, with an interesting twist. this leads to a sex scene that might not be out of place in an 80s movies, or at least on cinemax. i also like the hero-telling-sobby-backstory scene where he explains why von cunth wants to kill him. the final action sequence is not that far off from an actual 80s action movie like rambo. there also seems to be a point about how self-absorb action heroes are.
but these subversions of the action genre are few and far between. instead, we get jokes about sticking celery in the ass(es), two sex scenes in a row with the second contrasting how much better the first one is (many jokes are done twice, but somehow they seem to only repeat the bad ones), and cheap gay/oral sex jokes. wiig’s character is named vicki st. elmo, and we never got a brat pack joke. it’s also surprisingly gory with the throat-ripping, probably because the act of throat-ripping is not funny by itself, and they didn’t even try to make it funny. there are numerous wordplay regarding kilmer’s character’s last name, which is to be expected as soon as his name is mentioned. they could have at least spelled it with a k. i guess it’s understandable that they want to do and say things they couldn’t on network tv, it would have been helpful if they are funny as well.
though the movie seems to take place in current time, most of the songs are 80s rock ballads (eddie money, toto, mr. mister) except for two instances where the hives and wolfmother sneak in without reason. there must be some 80s songs they could have used instead. but at least it makes more sense to mine the 80s retro nostalgia here than drive (2011). most of the time, the music comes from macgrubber’s beloved tape deck from his car, which he takes with him whenever he leaves the car.
i am sure there are worse snl movies out there. macgruber is not exactly horrible, but coming after loaded weapon 1, hot shots part deux, team america, hot fuzz, tropic thunder, and the self-referential shane black action movies, macgruber feels too little too late. it’s as out of time and out of touch as the tv show where the character was born. and i am speaking as a fan of both the brothers solomon and hot rod.
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