You can’t really get upset at the movie MacGruber for being such an inane, headache-inducing, unfunny, moronic, ridiculous mess of a movie. Based on a Saturday Night Live skit that wasn’t really funny in the first place, the comedy bit was an out-of-date spoof on the 1980s TV action drama MacGyver. MacGruber was always a one joke idea: an imbecile MacGyver-like character takes too long to diffuse a bomb and everyone blows up. The humor was more or less reliant on the assumption that changing fashions make decades-old tastes seem ridiculous.
If making an entire movie out of this sounds as challenging as getting out of a MacGyver jam, the writers let us know they agree during the opening credits. The intentionally insipid theme song from the SNL skit (ma-gru-BAR!) is orchestrated with a full chorus and slow motion in a MacGyver theme meets James Bond meets Flashdance motif, adding one additional line to the SNL theme: “He made a f***ing movie . . . mac-gru-BAR!” The movie itself is part of the joke, almost as if to say, “we really shouldn’t have made this.” And they shouldn’t have.
The plot contains an intentionally long list of action film clichés: MacGruber (Will Forte) is in exile in South America when he is called out of retirement to chase down his arch-rival who killed his wife and is now threatening the world with a nuclear warhead. MacGruber pulls together a “dream team” of his old cohorts only to inadvertently blow them up when he mishandles plastic explosives. The dweeby action hero is forced to team with wannabe music star Vicki (Kristen Wiig) and hot shot lieutenant Dixon Piper (Ryan Phillippe). MacGruber shamelessly uses Vicki as a decoy in most of his action plans, and Dixon plays the straight man, who, like the audience, recognizes that MacGruber is a goober.
This all manages to serve up barely a handful of laughs, as MacGruber tries to force the same jokes over and over until we think they are funny. He sticks celery in his rear, swears at and tries to intimidate rivals, solicits homosexual sex, and has grunting, dirty porno-style sex with every female character in the film. The film keeps pounding away at these jokes, pushing for laughs, but most of them solicit chuckles the first time, only drying out with each repeat. The one creative 1980s spoofing: MacGruber takes his bulky car radio out of the dashboard each time he exists the vehicle. If this film was supposed to be a mockery of all things 1980s, I would have liked to have seen more of this kind of humor.
In the end, MacGruber works itself out of its own badness because it never seemed to have wanted to be anything more than a bad movie in the first place. This is the pattern of these Saturday Night Live skit movie spinoffs. They rarely work to a large extent because they rely on simply ramming the same 11:55 p.m. jokes at audiences over and over. It’s a formula that looks like good fun for the performers, but leaves audiences wondering why they thought the joke was funny in the first place. So while SNL struggles for ratings and audiences, why spoil the joke by blowing it up?