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“MacGruber” avoids a bomb.

“MacGruber” avoids a bomb. (photo)

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Reviewed at the 2010 SXSW Film Festival.

To answer the immediate question at hand, “MacGruber” is in fact the funniest “Saturday Night Live” spinoff since “Wayne’s World” in 1992.

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.

03162010_macgruber03.jpgThe 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]

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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