It’s unfortunate that Saturday Night Live has gotten a rep for being pretty unfunny in the past couple of years. Everybody will, of course, claim “the show stopped being funny when X left” but the truth of the matter is that it becomes a completely different beast every few years, starting when they made the first major cast change back in 1980.
These days, the level of writing, led by head writer Seth Meyers, has been adapted to a younger audience. With bits like music videos from The Lonely Island or the one-liners in Weekend Update, they are definitely appealing to a crowd under the age of 30. Even a skit like MacGruber, which is based on a bumbling protagonist (Will Forte) and the inevitable explosion ending isn’t exactly highbrow comedy, but mostly visual humor and random vulgarity.
Sadly, that’s exactly where the film adaptation of MacGruber picks up. It continues the trend of sight gags that don’t really pay off and more vulgarity than an uncensored episode of South Park. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge fan of SNL, Forte, and the MacGruber skit, but the film lives up to the low expectation everyone had for it, in just being a 30 second skit stretched out into 90 minutes.
The biggest problem with MacGruber is its inconsistency. It has great potential in the first minutes to be a serious action film with MacGruber playing the Gilligan to everyone’s Skipper, but then it changes into some sort of spoof film. This would be fine if the film stayed that way, and was a satire of classic 80’s action films, a la Hot Shots, but it changes again.
Even the character of MacGruber gets bounced back and forth from being the bumbling idiot, to the unsuspecting hero, back to the bumbling idiot. You obviously want to root for the main character, seeing as how you’re paying the 10 bucks to sit in a movie titled after him, but halfway through the film, you start to empathize with Ryan Phillipe’s character because he seems like the only sane one.
Sure, there are a few gags that pay off, and some mindless explosions and sex scenes, but the film is all over the place that by the time your laughter puts you in a better mood, the film becomes something else and the expression on your face goes back to blank.
The straight men of the film did a fine job, between Phillippe and Powers Boothe, but even the over-the-top Kilmer as antagonist Dieter Von Cunth felt the need to “camp it up” for no reason halfway through the film. Kristin Wiig played her go-to awkward character that she tends to circle back to on SNL every now and then, which also comes across as a bit painful (though it’s nice to finally see her as the love interest and not the wacky best friend).
The biggest heartbreak of the film is that this was Will Forte’s first big shot as a leading man, and most of the blame for this film’s many problems is going to fall on him, being co-writer and star. It could be a while before we see another poster with Forte’s name bigger than everyone else’s. Director Jorma Taccone may also have to end up answering for this film, but his involvement with Andy Samberg and The Lonely Island will probably keep him in the good graces of the fans.
MacGruber has a few chuckles and many smiles, but that was all dwarfed by the persistent blank faces of the members in the audience, as Forte drops another F-bomb and throws out a forced catchphrase every 10 minutes. Instead of heading out to see it, string together a bunch of classic MacGruber skits and watch them, you’ll laugh more.