Saturday, May 29, 2010


In painfully unfunny, and mercifully brief, skits on Saturday Night Live, Will Forte plays MacGruber, an incompetent hero with overconfidence and an easily distractible disposition. The short scenes involving frantic attempts to diffuse a bomb play out in interchangeable bunkers that will unfailingly, as the final punchline, explode. Now, in the first SNL film in nearly a decade, MacGruber, while dramatically increasing the crudeness and violence of the skits, creates a loud, specific parody of loud 1980’s action movies, the kind that were ridiculous to begin with. Under the direction of an SNL writer making his feature debut, Jorma Taccone, the movie pays plenty of attention to the tropes of the 80’s action movie in style and form. Here is a comedy that consistently looks and sounds like a typical action outing. It’s a parody of overblown, over-the-top action filmmaking. A few summers ago, Edgar Wright’s Hot Fuzz got huge laughs with the same basic concept by using truly well-staged action to highlight both the pleasure and the ridiculousness of the genre. MacGruber takes a different approach, constantly undercutting the pleasure of the action without having any jokes to fill the void. It becomes a sparsely amusing comedy and a thoroughly unexciting action movie. Despite willfully glib work from Val Kilmer and Powers Boothe (just two of the painfully obvious casting callbacks to the 80’s), and despite the earnest efforts of Kristen Wiig and Ryan Phillipe (as sidekicks), the movie ultimately fails because there are no funny situations in which to put the characters. Forte’s MacGruber is the only zany character in the entire film, bouncing through semi-serious set-pieces with a cast determined to play everything as if it were an action film. (The exception is Maya Rudolph, who shows up only briefly and is therefore easily the most tolerable). As the sole intended source of humor, outside of bad puns and silly names, MacGruber himself becomes grating and annoying fairly quickly, leaving for the exasperated audience’s enjoyment only a thin action plot and a series of gaps where the laughter should be.

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