Good (or, at least, debatably not terrible) films have been made from trading cards ( Mars Attacks! ), from board games ( Clue ), from albums (Pink Floyd’s The Wall ), from comically unadaptable tomes ( Tristram Shandy ) and, potentially, from the life of Mort Zuckerman (the forthcoming Aaron Sorkin-penned, David Fincher-directed, Jesse Eisenberg-starring The Social Network ). So why not from a recurring sketch that lasts just over a minute and ends, each time, with its lead character and gang being blown to smithereens? Worse ideas have been green-lit, many also based on Saturday Night Live sketches.
The key to the funnier-than-it-should-be-but-still-not-that-funny MacGruber ’s semi-success is a lack of fidelity to the source material. The title character manages to survive the film’s 89 minutes, while the parody net is cast wider, encompassing not just MacGyver but the whole of action cinema. Mulletted improviser of gadgets MacGruber (Will Forte) even gets a backstory: His betrothed (Maya Rudolph) was blown into bloody bits at the altar by baddie Dieter von Cunth (Val Kilmer), driving him to fake his death and hide among the Ecuadoran salt of the earth. When von Cunth (the H is silent) acquires nuclear weapons, MacG is lured out of retirement (by Powers Boothe, for extra verisimilitude), partly to exact revenge, but mostly to foist his considerable pathologies onto partner Kristen Wiig and straight man/brow-furrowing skeptic Ryan Phillippe.
The action film is not exactly wanting for satire, particularly the ‘80s breed; Chuck Norris’ far-right weekly columns tend to be funnier than anything in MacGruber (or, for that matter, Pineapple Express ). But for those raised in that curious age when “cool” was defined by unironic mega-machismo and towering ‘staches, the endless taking of wind from its lead character’s sails rarely fails to kill. MacGruber is an arrogant sometime-nudist with psychosexual hangups who brays like a pissed donkey during sex, deems his successes “classic MacGruber” and has shit taste in music. (My favorite running gag: Shitkicker rock blares on the soundtrack, then drops, revealing that our hero is really listening to Toto, ‘80s Doobie Brothers, etc.) And rather than keeping cucumber cool, he spends most of the film brooding somewhat secretly over a minor slight shouted from a passing car, culminating in a notebook more deranged than the ones in Se7en .
Belittling the ‘80s action star is a full-time job, and it provides Forte and fellow SNL staffers with enough material to keep the yuks consistent, even if the product as a whole suffers from a certain slacker ethos. How you underutilize a ponytailed Val Kilmer is beyond me.