Before I go all “stuffy, humorless critic” to pick apart a movie whose main character sticks a stalk of celery in his ass to foil an international terrorist plot, I’d like to preemptively come to my own defense by saying that I laughed often—and sometimes even hard—at MacGruber. But I’m not proud of that fact, so can we just move on?
What makes the MacGruber character—Will Forte’s mulleted, fishing vest–wearing, bomb-disposing, bizarro-world MacGyver—funny on Saturday Night Live is the fact that he never saves the day. (And, let’s be honest, the short-skit format kept the joke from going stale, too.) No matter how cool he played it as the timer ticked down, you knew he was gonna go boom. It was one of those rare instances of predictability bringing the funny.
Oh, sure, MacGruber the movie is plenty predictable, but without any winks to let you know the writers are in on the joke. Instead of satirizing the whole action-flick genre by finding real humor in the narcissism of heroes, it relies on cheap laughs—like naming the ponytailed villain who plans to nuke Washington, DC, Dieter Von Cunth. (I’d say Val Kilmer was slumming as Von Cunth, but, seriously, what was the last good thing he did?) Instead of sending up MacGyver’s shop teacher-as-savior shtick, it makes MacGruber’s threat to dismember Cunth’s member a major plot point. Why bother referencing a cult-classic TV character if your jokes are designed to connect with an audience too young to remember the show?
And yet. I smirked. I chuckled. Alright, fine: I LOL’d. Partly because Kristen Wiig plays MacGruber’s sidekick, Vicki St. Elmo, with a dimly loyal sweetness, but mainly because you gotta give props to a guy willing to put produce in his pooper to save the world.
MacGruber opens nationwide on May 21.