As we’ve seen several times over the last 30 years, adapting sketches from “Saturday Night Live” into full-length movies is a hit-and-miss proposition. For every “The Blues Brothers,” we get five “Coneheads.” Or worse, “It’s Pat.”
Will Forte and his “MacGruber” writing crew wisely didn’t try to expand their 30-second “Macgyver” spoofs from the show to 90 minutes; they simply took the characters and transplanted them into a pretty straightforward genre-movie parody, with pretty good results. The effort isn’t as quality as “Airplane!” or “Team America: World Police,” but neither is it “Dracula: Dead and Loving It.”
MacGruber’s backstory is half John Rambo and half James Bond: MacGruber (Forte) was thought dead along with his wife, who was murdered under mysterious circumstances. When MacGruber’s old arch-nemesis Dieter Von Cunth (Val Kilmer, TV’s “Knight Rider“) is suspected of stealing a nuclear warhead, MacGruber’s mentor, Col. James Faith (Powers Boothe, TV’s “Deadwood“), tracks him to a tiny, dusty village in the middle of nowhere to bring him out of retirement.
Once MacGruber makes his way back to the States, Col. Faith tries to pair him up with Lt. Dixon Piper (Ryan Phillippe, “Stop-Loss“), a young officer who cut his teeth listening to stories about MacGruber’s past exploits. MacGruber refuses to work with him and puts together his own team via a montage that would make Chuck Norris proud.
When things “fall through” with his hand-picked team, MacGruber is forced to work with Piper and Vicki St. Elmo (Kristen Wiig, TV’s “Saturday Night Live”), his wife’s best friend. This mismatched, ragtag team must go against the unlimited resources and cruelty of Von Cunth, smashing things, blowing things up, taking “upper deckers” and making creative use of celery along the way.
Again, it was smart of Forte and company to graft their characters onto an existing subgenre. The original conceit of the “MacGruber” sketch is that he is kind of an idiot and his personal problems get in the way of him defusing a bomb, the explosion of which ends each segment.
This basic setup is worked into the movie’s climax, but the readymade plot helps get them there, meaning what people like about the sketch gets to be in the movie without getting on everyone’s nerves.
The action-flick template also frees Forte and “SNL” co-writers John Solomon and Jorma Taccone to graft whatever crazy-ass gags and situations they want onto the proceedings. For the most part, the material is funny and weird, and rarely steps on the movie’s pacing. Only one of those instances, in which MacGruber has sexual congress in a graveyard with a ghost (yeah, it’s that kind of humor), seems unnecessary enough that it could have been left out.
It also doesn’t hurt that Taccone, who directed, convinced solid actors like Phillippe and Kilmer to support Forte. Wiig, who is just as funny as usual, also has a natural anchoring effect, helping the whole thing come off better than one might expect. “Mike Robertson