If you saw any the SNL sketches or the Super Bowl commercial featuring the nimrod government agent MacGruber — basically Richard Dean Anderson’s MacGyver by way of “The Jerk” hero Navin Johnson — you know to expect from the film that bears his name: five or six inspired bits, surrounded by padding.
MacGruber (Will Forte) is a former super-soldier who spent 10 years hiding out in a monastery following the murder of his fiancée (Maya Rudolph) on their wedding day. He re-ups in service of the good ol’ USA (represented by his commanding officer, Powers Boothe, a forceful, strange actor who’s stifled by this glowering boss part) and tries to thwart a nuclear plot orchestrated by the very man who killed his beloved, an arms-dealer, terrorist and former college buddy of MacGruber’s named Dieter von Cunth (Val Kilmer, who has aced this kind of material ever since “Top Secret” and is effective if slightly underused here). He’s joined by fellow agent Vicki St. Elmo (Kristin Wiig, whose deer-in-the-klieg-lights reactions are the film’s best asset) and a straight-arrow second-in-command, Lt. Dixon Piper (Ryan Phillippe, turning metrosexual intensity into a comedic style).
Between MacGruber’s fetish for throat-ripping, his agonized post-coital groans, his inclination to prance around with a stick of celery up his ass whenever a diversion is called for, and his tendency to offer blowjobs and anal sex to anyone who’s said “no” to him for any reason, he’s the weirdest, most pathetic action hero since Lt. Frank Drebin.
Forte plays him with a maniacal gleam. But something feels off. This actor can be hilarious in the right movie, such as the aggressively off-putting “The Brothers Solomon,” yet he’s only sporadically amusing here. It might be because the film, co-written by Forte and directed by Jorma Taccone, makes MacGruber less a deranged-but-gifted loner with an artist’s mentality (a character Mike Myers used to play often and well) but a preening fool.
That creates a disconnect between Forte and his world, which (aside from stray, surreal moments involving the supporting characters, such as the glimpse of Von Cunth painting a portrait of a topless grandma) comes across as a colorless, grimly efficient version of the world depicted in most R-rated, B-list action-adventures. When you see how ruthlessly focused most of the bad guys are, you start to wonder how a doofus like MacGruber could have ended up in their orbit — which surely could not have been the point.
Another related problem: except for the throat-rips and an admirably revolting bullet-removal gag, “MacGruber” stages its violence too straightforwardly. All the action should have been way, way, way over the top, sanctified with gratuitous slo-mo and drenched in fake-looking gore. How else to parody a genre in which excess is the norm?
Strike three is the movie’s failure to rise to the heights of similarly conceived but more imaginative spoofs — a category whose leading lights are Shane Black’s ass-kicking screwball comedy “Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang” (which co-starred Kilmer) and Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s puppet opus “Team America: World Police.”
And from its rah-rah opening credits song (a pale cousin to “America (Fuck Yeah!)”) to its overwrought sex scenes (which aren’t nearly as deranged as the spectacle of marionettes shtupping like porn stars), “MacGruber” unwisely invites unflattering comparisons with Parker and Stone’s loony-bin classic.
Bottom line: “MacGruber” is less a movie than a movie-flavored product, 99 minutes of your life that you’ll never get back.