SXSW 2010 Review: MACGRUBER
Please note: the version of MACGRUBER shown at SXSW is not the final cut, which is still being crafted.
Writers: John Solomon, Jorma Taccone, Will Forte
Director: Jorma Taccone
Cast: Will Forte, Kristen Wiig, Ryan Phillippe, Val Kilmer, Powers Boothe
MACGRUBER. EXPLOSION. MOVIE. MACGRUBER. MACGRUBER. CELERY. MULLETS. MACGRUBER. EXPLOSION. EXPLOSION. MACGRUBER. RYAN PHILLIPPE? RYAN PHILLIPPE. MACGRUBER. Come on, did you really think it could be any other way?
The audience that will ingest of MACGRUBER’s Bartles and Jaymes-esque flavors will surely go into the theater expecting a very certain pattern of things to occur. Problem – bomb made out of bits of things – explosion – repeat. This is not so much what the theatrical MACGRUBER serves up to its audience. Instead, it’s much closer to a snarky send-up of eighties action flicks (look for a lot of nods to the Reagan years), wrapped up in a MACGRUBER package. And while this allows the film to have an actual plotline, unlike the “Saturday Night Live” skit it’s scantly based on, those expecting all manner of explosions and clever uses of balls of twine and paper towels will probably be a bit disappointed.
The print of MACGRUBER shown at SXSW was not a final cut – director Jorma Taccone said it is the closest to a final cut they currently have, but there are still tweaks to be made. Some special effects, colorization, and sounds were also just nearing the end of their process, which actually made the film feel a lot closer to the cheesy look of the original skits. But, beyond that, the film is essentially finished and the MACGRUBER origin story of sorts is in place.
Did you ever wonder where MacGruber came from? No? Me either. But, according to MACGRUBER, the man is a haunted military hero, marked for death by his nemesis, Dieter von Cunth (Val Kilmer, sporting the most seriously present ponytail I’ve ever witnessed in film). Cunth has already killed MacGruber’s wife Casey (Maya Rudolph) before the film has begun, and MacGruber has led the world to believe he also bit the big one during their wedding day attack (hello, KILL BILL?) as well. But Cunth has gotten his mitts on a nuclear warhead, and only one man can stop him – MACGRUBER! Brought back in by his old colonel (Powers Boothe), MacGruber eventually ends up joining forces with Vicki St. Elmo (Casey’s best friend, as played by the always game Kristen Wiig) and Lt. Dixon Piper (Ryan Phillippe). They set out to stop Cunth before he can unleash um, well, really whatever it is he is planning on unleashing.
By this point, the film is running dangerously low on explosions and crafty devices and high on the cheese factor. The script is frequently funny, as Taccone has played around with all sorts of eighties action clichés for our characters to spout off (“The game has changed.” “But the players are the same!”). Instead of blowing stuff up, Forte’s MacGruber frequently turns unhinged, expressing himself and his feelings in increasingly disturbing (and hilarious) ways. Phillippe plays straight man, all military restraint, but fails to move beyond engaging the audience in any way that doesn’t circle back to “no, but really, why did Ryan Phillippe do this again?” Wiig’s Vicki has to be the best part of the film’s cast, but it’s still just another solid Wiig performance, nothing spectacular.
MACGRUBER is often funny, but rarely truly gut-busting or even especially clever. The best gags are the most repeated (check out MacGruber’s rocking car stereo system) and the perfectly eighties soundtrack (which tracks like a best-of compilation of songs overused in actual eighties movies – hello, Mr. Mister’s “Broken Wings”). It succeeds in turning one of SNL’s shortest (and, as far as I know, least beloved) skits into an actual film, but the finished product is nothing explosive – it’s closer to something your little brother would cook up with his home chemistry set.
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