Saturday Night Live films.
I know what many are thinking now. And they are absolutely right. With the exception of The Blues Brothers (an essential classic), any film based on a Saturday Night Live sketch has been absolute poison. Even Wayne’s World, often considered the other “good” SNL film, is merely a passable one. I am not familiar at all with the original sketches – which actually isn’t a problem (they are very short and do not advance the character at all).
I will say this – MacGruber is funnier than it has any right to be. But that does not make it good.
MacGruber is, pretty much, a parody of espionage action thrillers. The titular character(Will Forte) is a former military ace who went into a retirement after his wife was murdered to stop his arch rival Cunth (Val Kilmer; oh and what was the rule about funny movie names? That they are never funny unless the movie is called Dr. Strangelove? Alright then) who has stolen a nuclear device. MacGruber puts a team together, accidentally kills them, and then puts together another team consisting of Lt Dixon Piper (Ryan Phillippe) and Vicki St Elmo (Kristen Wiig). They try and stop Cunth before he can destroy Washington D.C.
The main problem is that the film does not understand the fundamental rule of comedy. Acting dumb in a serious situation is never, ever funny. MacGruber does that far too many times. At one point, in a firefight, MacGruber creates a distraction by shoving a stalk of celery where the sun doesn’t shine and walking about with his pants down and his hands covering his genitals. It makes no sense that any sort of military hero would do this. I can understand cocky – I do not understand idiocy.
The other thing is that MacGruber seems to enjoy repeating its jokes. Sometimes the visual cues are identical to previous gag. And I am not saying that such occurrences are separated by minutes – they are separated by seconds. Why do this? Because the film did not have enough to say about the action film genre and the cliches it reverts to. In fact, some of it is quite dated. It opens in the sort of Rambo opening that has been parodied countless times. It does not even take into account the changes in the genre. Here’s a question: why not parody the advent of digital cameras? Show an action scene and then show it from the point of view of, say, a kid who is filming it on his phone? The mind reels. And frankly, why parody MacGyver anyway? Why not 24? It is wrong for parody to date itself. It is even more of a problem to explore territory that has been explored many, many times.
Yet sometimes the film does realize what was funny – when people act serious in a ridiculous situation. The funniest scene of the film comes when Vicki disguises herself as MacGruber at a coffee shop. MacGruber attempts to tell her how to act like him; the result is general lunacy. One segment involving MacGruber obsessing over a license plate number -well I will not spoil it, but the pay off is wonderful. The sex scenes, I suppose, are also funny, if only because they manage to deconstruct the typical film sex scenes. The rest of the film is just MacGruber acting like a fool when his character has not been set up as such.
Like I said, this is not the disaster that films like It’s Pat were. I guess this represents some sort of progression for Saturday Night Live. But these films are still far away from becoming decent comedies. Why was the best saved for first? Why was everything saved for first?