Reviewed at the 2010 SXSW Film Festival.
But as anyone who follows such things knows, that isn’t necessarily high praise. In the years in the wake of the success of “Wayne’s World,” many recurring characters were granted the feature treatment, mostly after they had already been run into the ground by the show. But films like “Superstar” and “A Night at the Roxbury” seemed driven by creating opportunities for a cast that had not become stars yet on any other night but Saturday and hadn’t yet developed film ideas of their own.
Jorma Taccone and Will Forte were given test runs before getting the keys to the car, with Taccone cutting his teeth on “Hot Rod” and Forte doing the same on “The Brothers Solomon — both films filled with a world of weird — in advance of tackling what is the first sketch-to-film adaptation since 2000’s “The Ladies Man.” The result is an idiosyncratic mix between avant garde comedy, ’80s action bluster and pop cultural tomfoolery that sometimes gets bogged down in its own bizarre behavior, but more often than not delivers the goods.
As Taccone said during the film’s post-screening Q & A at SXSW last night, “We really weren’t trying to be too spoofy with it,” and even though “MacGruber” pokes fun at such action tropes as the getting-the-team-together montage (featuring a parade of WWE stars) and the softly-lit sex scene between the lead and his love interest (set to Mr. Mister’s “Take These Broken Wings,” no less), it mainly works in the way that Forte’s best sketches do — by taking gags further than anyone else would dare. Perhaps that’s why there’s no real allusion to the skit other than an operatic rendition of the “MacGruber” theme song to open the film until the final act, when the audience is worn down to the point of submission by the MacGruber’s heretofore unknown obsession with Blaupunkt car radios or his willingness to drop to his knees to give any of his superiors oral sex when they threaten to block his mission.
The movie MacGruber is quite a bit different than the TV one, throwing around “F”-words with wild abandon and willing to shove a stalk of celery up his ass as a diversionary tactic. He’s also got a partner in Ryan Phillippe’s straight-shooting Lt. Dixon Piper and a foe in Val Kilmer’s Dieter Von Cunth, a billionaire who has his sights set on blowing up the U.S. government with a nuclear missile. (The latter has a fondness for painting abstracts of nude octogenarians.) There’s not much more to the plot, except the presence of Kristen Wiig as MacGruber’s reliable assistant Vicki St. Elmo, who harbors a not-so-secret crush on her mullet-lovin’ boss, but then again, there doesn’t actually need to be. Forte’s commitment to the character is admirable and although I thought I had tired of the character around the time of the infamous “MacGruber” Super Bowl spots from a year ago, that was before seeing him outside of a bunker in his red Mazda Miata with a fixation for kicking ass and ripping out throats.
In front of a crowd that included “SNL” scribes Seth Meyers and Akiva Schaffer, as well as Kilmer, who didn’t appear on stage when the cast was called up (“Classic Cunth,” Taccone joked), the cast and crew marveled at finishing the production in less than a month, with an ebullient Phillippe shaking Taccone’s shoulders and exclaiming, “This motherfucker shot this in 28 days!” (Taccone will have a chance to get him back when Phillippe hosts “SNL” on April 17th.) Phillippe went on to explain he would bite the inside of his cheek or dig his index finger into his thumb to keep from laughing opposite Forte, though he went to even greater lengths to get the part after attending a table read before the film was greenlit. “I wondered why my agent wouldn’t let me do something like this,” Phillippe said, before convincing his handlers to go up for the role. Given the track record of these types of adaptations, you can’t blame them, but unlike what happens at the end of every “MacGruber” skit, the film doesn’t self-destruct.
“MacGruber” opens wide on May 21st.
[Photos: “MacGruber,” Rogue Pictures, 2010]