Posted on September 7, 2010 at 8:13 am

A one-joke “Saturday Night Live” skit based on a television series that ended in 1992 has been turned into a no-joke movie that ended 99 painful minutes after it began. It is of interest only to people who think that 80’s references like mullet haircuts, Blaupunkt removable automobile cassette players, soft rock, and many many many potty jokes are always hilarious.
“MacGyver” was a television series about a secret agent who could take a gum wrapper and a bottle of nail polish remover and make it into some very clever device to defeat any threat from any enemy, no matter how high-tech. The series emphasized problem-solving and science over weapons. And now the little boys who grew up watching MacGyver think it is hilarious to trash him by making him into an arrogant idiot.
The SNL skits invariably and tediously show MacGruber (co-writer Will Forte) trying to defuse some bomb with household items only to fail and have it blow everyone up. The movie draws not just from the skits but from a range of 80’s action film conventions. MacGruber is a one-time action hero who has retired to a life of spiritual contemplation after his bride (Maya Rudolph) was murdered at their wedding. He gets a visit from Colonel James Faith (a steely Powers Boothe) and Lt. Dixon Piper (Ryan Phillippe), asking him to return to service to go after a bad guy played by a beefy and ponytailed Val Kilmer whose character name happens to sound like an extremely crude term for the female anatomy.
MacGruber swings like a pendulum between grandiose self-aggrandizement and humiliating self-abasement. Both are excruciating. He rounds up a team of very big men (played by WWE stars) but accidentally blows them to smithereens so has to work with Piper and his late wife’s best friend Vicky St. Elmo (Get it? Another 80’s reference!), played by the divine Kristen Wiig, who is the movie’s only bright spot. Even the blue eyeshadow and feathered blonde hair can’t hide her brilliance and beauty.
Those for whom the 80’s were not epochal will be bored when they are not being grossed out. Or both at the same time. On the other hand, those who find the idea of a man sticking a stalk of celery in his butt and walking around with his pants off so hilarious that they want to see it twice will be delighted.

Parents should know that this film has extremely graphic violence and extremely graphic sexual references and situations including male and female nudity. Characters drink and there are several product placement references to Molson beer. There is sexist and homophobic humor and very strong and crude language.
Family discussion: What other films can you recognize as influences?
If you like this, try: other “Saturday Night Live” movies like “The Blues Brothers” and “Wayne’s World”

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Action/Adventure Based on a television show Comedy

14 Replies to “MacGruber”

  1. Kristen Wiig is finally headlining her first film, produced by Judd Apatow and filming this summer. Maya Rudolph is her main co-star. I can’t wait. Wiig and Rudolph (robbed of an Oscar nom for “Away We Go,” IMHO) can do no wrong even when their movies aren’t always great.

  2. This is one where we agree 100%, Dustin. I love them both and I love the way that after decades of being a boys club SNL is now led by so many talented and funny women. Wiig’s performance in this film was subtle and sweet and a small comic gem.

  3. I don’t understand why this movie was made to an R rating. The sketches on SNL were borderline PG-13 (barely). But to take the extra rating into R seems stupid. The original series upon which this is based was a PG fantasy. It’s a fond memory for me. I enjoyed the SNL jabs to the weird wholesomeness and unbelievability of the original, but to take that premise and make it violent and crude…why? What is the point and where is the satire? Almost all of 80s and early 90s television was safe and PC. That’s what should be attacked here. Instead, we have in this movie a good reason to rebroadcast PC culture. What an utter failure.

  4. Thanks so much, Eric. I could not say it better: “we have in this movie a good reason to rebroadcast PC culture.”
    I think what is going on here is the impulse we often see to trash the things the writers loved as children and now feel they have to separate from to show that they know better. “Land of the Lost” is another bad example, a terribly raunchy parody of a sincere if cheesy or as you said weirdly wholesome kids’ show. The idea of parody is not a bad one as it helps us sharpen our critical sensibilities. Think of MAD Magazine. But it is lazy and cheap to throw a lot of crude material into the movie instead of wit and humor. I am stunned that this film has had so many respectful and positive reviews.

  5. If you like this, try: other “Saturday Night Live” movies like “The Blues Brothers” and “Wayne’s World”
    The blues brothers was awesome and not at all of the same kind of humor you’re describing. You are slandering a good movie and confusing classic Saturday Night Live with the modern show that is similar in name only.

  6. Hi, Elwood! How’s the plain white toast? If I don’t like a movie, as was the case here, I try to recommend better ones. I do not consider it in any way slander to recommend a good movie, even in association with one I have just given a D to. What am I supposed to do, tell people that if they like this awful movie here are some other awful movies they might enjoy?

  7. I CANNOT WAIT TO SEE MACGRUBER!!!! I LOVE MACGRUBER ON SNL!!!!!!!!! I consider movies like Macgruber to be one of the great joys in life.

  8. Not since wedding crashers or super bad have I laughed out loud this much. This movie is silly and full of dirty jokes and bad puns but there is some real funny stuff in between. Don’t go in thinking it’s going to be Citizen Cain. You will ether absolutely love this movie or hate it with a passion. It helps if you are a child of the 80’s and have seen the show that they are spoofing. I liked it more than hot tub time machine and I loved that movie. This is low brow all the way, so don’t expect anything too cerebral. Not sophisticated in any sense of the word. its like the worlds biggest fart noise; It catches you off guard and makes you laugh in spite of yourself. I think this is a case of sometimes something is so dumb so unbelievably awful that it becomes art. I remember when nell recommended wedding crashers and how surprised I was. Lets face it, that movie was funny even if it was dirty and had homophobic humor. everyone in theater with me was laughing very hard at MacGruber. I think people just don’t want to admit that they thought it was funny because they don’t want to be judged for it.

  9. Citizen Kane that is. oh and BTW Nell though I disagree with you on this one, thanks for being the best critic around. you are almost alway dead on 🙂

  10. LOVED this comment, Michael! I agree that the people who will enjoy it most are those most familiar with the conventions of cheesy 80’s action movies. I agree that it’s low-brow! And I am always very happy to hear from anyone who enjoys a movie more than I did. Thanks!

  11. The difference between this movie and Blues Brothers is that B.B. fleshed out their story while this is the same joke tried over and again. The McGrubber SNL skits (which are indeed funny) tell a whole story is 30 to 60 seconds – and that is enough. The Blues Brothers routines on SNL simply hinted at a larger story that made people want to learn more. There is a difference between filling out a story and padding material.
    By the way – as a fan of Royal Pains, I have noticed how Dr Hank had an increasing number of McGiver moments with medical rescues. I hope they do not become as cliche.

  12. A bore and a chore to watch … Forte is no Chevy Chase, or even Chris Kattan. The script is just so lazy. Cursing doesn’t offend me in the least, but cursing as a way to wring laughs out of a leaden script sure does.
    Aren’t we burned out on ’80s parodies yet?

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