Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that MacGruber of all movies would pose an intellectual quandary for me. It’s inexplicable, like the time I got choked up at the end of The Wedding Singer, which, though a commendable movie, is hardly worthy of tears.
Here is my problem. I went to see MacGruber (part of me can’t believe I willingly admit this) last weekend, and I have been putting off writing about it because, well, I can’t figure out how to write about it. I find myself unable to take a stance on the movie. After watching a movie I’ll often say something about how I enjoyed it while I was watching it, but I never have to think about it again. MacGruber certainly fits into this category, but not only do I never have to think about it again, I find myself unable to think about it. I know I watched a movie, but it is as if it didn’t stick.
There hasn’t been a movie based on a Saturday Night Live sketch in ten years, and it’s been way longer than that since there was a good one. I for one am glad that they stopped trying to squeeze ninety minute movies out of three minutes worth of material. SNL had an edge about it when I was young. It was where Bill Murray and John Belushi came from. Chevy Chase and Dan Akroyd were still funny then. They were known for pushing boundaries and doing new things. The fact that it was on so late added to the feel, but when I was in junior high and started to watch the show regularly there was an adolescent air of danger. The show was relegated to the middle of the night, almost like it was banished, and it was an accomplishment to stay up through an entire episode.
But, like the movies SNL spawned, it hasn’t been good in a long time. And in the pursuit of a greater level of honesty, watching the shows of the late ‘80s and early ‘90s that I have romanticized in my mind, they weren’t very good either.
Now why did they pick the MacGruber sketches to make a new movie? Did they somehow become ridiculously popular and I missed it? That is certainly possible. I’m not exactly plugged into the pulse of popular culture. Bu still, I have to ask why? They aren’t funny. Not even a little bit. They’re fucking awful. I do like Will Forte, but that is based solely on bit parts in 30 Rock and How I Met Your Mother. Everything else he’s ever done is a worthless pile of garbage, including the MacGruber sketches.
That said, MacGruber the movie is far better than I expected it to be. And I remember laughing in the theater, but I for the life of me I can’t remember a single specific thing that I laughed at. The cast is decent. They score points with me for including Powers Boothe, who plays it straight as a military higher up. Ryan Phillippe is passable as a straight-laced sidekick. A bloated Val Kilmer plays the bad guy. I don’t even hate Kristen Wiig in this movie, and I fucking despise her. I don’t personally want to hit her in the face, but I do want someone to punch her in the face. Come to think of it, that’s a pretty good illustration of how bland and harmless this movie is. I didn’t even hate people that I hate.
At least they didn’t waste a lot of time with character or plot. Ten years ago Val Kilmer killed MacGruber’s wife on their wedding day. More recently he stole a nuclear missile and is going to nuke America. MacGruber has to come out of retirement to stop him. That’s it. You know exactly what is going to happen at any given moment. Knowing what you now know about the story, imagine what you think the plot is going to be. You’re probably right.
Even the profanity, and I love me some profanity, is middle of the road. I can’t tell if the filmmakers think they’re doing something shocking (it feels like that’s what they’re trying for), but even that aspect of the movie entirely forgettable. It is no longer shocking to have the protagonist say absurdly (and I use this word lightly) dirty things during a sex scene, it’s been done before, many times, and done better.
It is mind blowing how completely innocuous this movie is. It is not good. It is not bad. Sure, it is way better than Cop Out, fuck that movie, but at least I had something to say about Cop Out. I hated it. Sitting through that pile of human offal made me angry. However, when I think about MacGruber, I feel absolutely nothing.
All I can say with absolute certainty is that MacGruber is a movie.
LAST MINUTE ADDENDUM: I just remembered one thing. MacGruber does have a lot of Under Siege/Roadhouse style throat rippings, which is good. But this positive element is offset by the failure of a number of running gags that take up too much time and space (the one with his MacGruber’s car stereo is vaguely humorous the first time, but the subsequent dozen times it pops up will make you cringe), thus the complete evenness of this movie is maintained.