'MacGruber': Surprisingly, it works

Posted: Thursday, May 27, 2010

"Saturday Night Live" has led directly from the small screen to the big screen for plenty of comedic actors. Some of the biggest, highest paid working today (Will Ferrell and Adam Sandler, for example) were only able to become the megastars they are because of "SNL." Often times those actors are propelled into the box office arena as part of a package deal with one of the skits they starred in on the show, too. "Wayne's World" for Mike Meyers and Dana Carvey is arguably the best "SNL" skit-to-movie effort to date (I hear you, "Blues Brothers" fans), but the list of failures is much lengthier than the successes.

Ferrell, along with Chris Kattan, was in one such failure ("A Night at the Roxbury"); lucky for Will, he proved to be hilarious on his own merit. Chris Kattan? He'll always have his "SNL" memories. Or how about the unfunny "Coneheads" with Dan Aykroyd and Jane Curtin? Tim Meadows gave it a shot with "The Ladies Man" and all those "wang" jokes stopped being entertaining after the first few minutes. The problem is that a three-minute sketch being stretched into a 90 minute movie is hardly a slam dunk. Going by history, actually, it is more like a full-court shot at the end of a basketball game. It is seemingly luck if the movie works, just like it is fluky to have one of those shots go in.

The latest full-court shot is "MacGruber." What makes "MacGruber" even more risky - we are talking a guy heaving the basketball from the seats behind the opposite basket, like, up in the nose bleeds - is that on "SNL" it is not even a real skit. When Will Forte shows up on the show as "MacGruber" we get him in short bursts (one or two minutes tops) between real skits. It works wonderfully. The setup is always the same (Forte and Kristen Wiig find themselves in a booby trapped control room of some sort). The dialogue is always funny (MacGruber going off on random tangents as the timer on the bomb ticks down). The ending is predictable (the bomb goes off in the middle of MacGruber's speech).

So, can you stretch that into 90 minutes?

Surprisingly, yes. That is not all that is surprising about the feature length edition of "MacGruber," either. Perhaps "A Night at the Roxbury" and "Superstar" just lowered my expectations, but "MacGruber" definitely sets itself apart from the previous "SNL" converts fairly quickly.

At first, I was worried. "MacGruber" opens with some graphic violence. Val Kilmer, the villain, shoots a wounded man in cold blood. He even utters a harsh one liner. Really? "MacGruber" opens like that? Yeah, I was worried. Then director and co-writer Jorma Taccone quickly corrects the vibe and takes seriousness out of the picture. There's little doubt once we establish MacGruber (Forte) himself and he is informed that his archrival (Kilmer) is back.

Kilmer's character's name: Cunth.

Yep. That means Forte gets to say things like, "Time to pound some Cunth." Perhaps I should have been worried for other reasons entirely. Raunchy or not - there is no "or not," though, it is straight-up raunchy - it is funny. I am not sure which was more surprising, the fact that "MacGruber" was really funny or the fact that it was every bit as explicit as "Team America: World Police." If you have seen "Team America," you are also aware that means there are jokes I simply cannot repeat in this space.

So how do you stretch a one-minute space-filler from "SNL" into a 90 minute movie? Turn everything up several notches and let loose. It works. Classic MacGruber.

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