SXSW Film: We’ve got 3 minutes MacGruber!

I am vaguely familiar with the popular MacGruber sketch that has become something of a staple on Saturday Night Live since debuting in 2007. For the completely uninitiated MacGruber is a spoof on the popular 80’s MacGyver television show/character. MacGruber usually focuses on he and two others with him attempting to defuse an explosive device with just three minutes remaining MacGruber! Usually he fails, getting his mind sidetracked by personal problems which results in the group of them being blown up.

It was obvious that the MacGruber sketch had reached critical mass in the last year or so. There was some backlash after a couple of soda commercials which played, looked and starred those popular from the MacGruber sketches caused some waves.

Flash forward another year and we now have the latest Saturday Night Live sketch turned feature length film with MacGruber. All of the creative staff behind the origins of the sketch are also behind the scenes of the film. Jorma Taccone who created the character is in the director’s chair and shares writing credit with the sketch writers John Solomon and MacGruber himself, Will Forte. SNL cast member Kristen Wiig is also in for the ride as well as a couple of surprising names for a film like this: Val Kilmer and Ryan Phillipe.

MacGruber, while being pretty much a one note, albeit funny sketch on the surface seems like something that would be fairly easy to expand from what is typically a two minute sketch into a full length film. Does it succeed? I think so, the thing about sketches turned films like this is that there is plenty of room for back story. This seems to be the crux of previous SNL feature length efforts. Short of Wayne’s World, I am hard pressed to think of any film that has really pulled it off that has been satisfying, and most importantly funny.

Where MacGruber succeeds is in it’s roots of ’80’s parody of the action films and shows of the time as well as poking fun of the decade. That’s not to say that all the jokes work but for the very few duds that there are the jokes that do work can be side splitting-funny.

The film opens with the theft of a nuclear missile by Dieter Von Cunth (Kilmer), a name ripe for  jokes if there ever was one. Get used to hearing a certain vulgar slang term dropped in relation to his name through out the film. Naturally there is only one man for the job to find the weapon and stop Cunth’s nefarious plan. Obviously that man is MacGruber.

Not a whole lot else to say but where MacGruber excels is in the deeper history they give MacGruber and Cunth that actually make them interesting advisories. They easily could have taken the easy route and made it a very plain Jane A and B type of setup, good vs evil but they delve deeper, giving MacGruber more personal motivation than that of country.

MacGruber is a hard R film and you can tell that they really went all out in taking full advantage of the freedoms that it gave them to get away with things. The film can be violent, bloody, gory and is laden with juvenile sex and fart joke humor. It would be easy to get too carried away and begin to abuse the reins they were freed from going to an FCC fine free zone at the cinema. Fortunately, it works in the world that has been built and that these characters live in.

MacGruber is a funny and an enjoyable film. Fans of the sketch are going to eat it up. Those like me who have a passing familiarity with the sketch should even find it enjoyable as it pokes fun of ’80’s action films and TV shows.

I give MacGruber 3 “celery stalks” out of 5

Note: The print that premiered at SXSW was not a final lock of the film and had some incomplete effects. The director stated in the Q&A that it’s highly unlikely that the film would change between now and release but I felt in the interest of full disclosure that this review may not be reflective of the final released film.

By John Coovert

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