Alex Eichler at The Atlantic
Dana Stevens at Slate:
My Slate colleague Jonah Weiner published an article in the New York Times‘ Arts & Leisure section last weekend on MacGruber (Universal Pictures), an action comedy based on the ongoing Saturday Night Live skit of that name, in which the creators speak with sincerity and passion of their desire to break the SNL-inspired movie formula—to do something really different. “The first thing we thought was the first thing everyone must think: How can we possibly pull this off?” asks Jorma Taccone, the film’s director and an SNL writer who originated the MacGruber character. John Solomon, another SNL writer who co-wrote the movie with Taccone and its star Will Forte, adds, “I think this movie is going to surprise a lot of people.”
Having now seen MacGruber, I find these comments both funnier and more touching than anything that happens in the movie. In fact, the MacGruber team’s firm belief that their movie is going to be awesome recalls nothing so much as the unshakable and completely unfounded self-confidence of MacGruber himself. The character, as embodied on big screen and small by Forte, is a blustering but incompetent action hero whose supposed expertise in bomb defusing inevitably ends in a giant (stock footage) fireball. Like Wile E. Coyote, he’s blown up in every episode, only to reappear in the next with his self-esteem undented. It’s a concept that appeals by virtue of its slightness and absurdity. The likelihood of this one-joke goof surviving the jump to feature-film format is as slim as the chance of MacGruber successfully disabling a bomb.
Eric D. Snider at Cinematical:
There isn’t much competition in this category, admittedly, but MacGruber is the funniest Saturday Night Live-based film since Wayne’s World. We’d have breathed a sigh of relief if it were merely not awful. The fact that it’s actually pretty good, a gleefully silly action parody that doesn’t run out of steam before it’s over, is just icing on the cake.
The recurring SNL sketch it’s based on is a spoof of the 1980s TV series MacGyver, famous for its resourceful, duct-tape-wielding protagonist. MacGruber, played by Will Forte, is ostensibly just like MacGyver, with the joke being that he’s actually dangerously inept. (Each sketch ends with him and his crew being blown up.) The movie version, written by Forte and SNL writers John Solomon and Jorma Taccone (Taccone also directed), expands MacGruber’s character to include several more traits: cowardly, petty, vain, homophobic, delusional, immature, and maybe sociopathic. Like many characters played by another SNL-bred Will — that’d be Mr. Ferrell — what’s so funny about MacGruber is that, despite being the hero, he’s an awful person who’s terrible at his job. I mean, people die because of him. Regularly.
Forte and company have logically put MacGruber into an ’80s action-movie scenario. A former Navy SEAL, Army Ranger, and Green Beret, MacGruber is retired now, Rambo-style, when his old Pentagon friend, Gen. Faith (Powers Boothe), recruits him for an important mission. It seems a nuclear warhead has been stolen and must be found before it is deployed. And who is the thief? None other than the same dastardly villain responsible for the death of MacGruber’s wife. The bad guy, played by Val Kilmer, is named Dieter Von Cunth, primarily so the movie can make its characters say “cunth” over and over again.
Through a series of events that’s both comical and completely predictable given what you know about the MacGruber SNL sketches, MacGruber winds up working with an old partner named Vicki St. Elmo (Kristen Wiig) and a rookie military officer named Lt. Dixon Piper (Ryan Phillippe) in his efforts to stop Von Cunth. MacGruber’s methods of surveillance and espionage are unorthodox — one involves celery being misused in a manner that you will not soon forget — but not in the way that gets results, even accidentally, like Agent 86 in Get Smart. MacGruber gets results only rarely, and most of those are technically someone else’s doing. In that way, the film’s central joke is self-referential: This is a movie about a completely useless character who should not be the main character in a movie.
Jenni Miller at Cinematical:
“People, I think, automatically assume that it’s just going to be the sketch over and over again for 90 minutes, and I think they’ll be pleasantly surprised,” star and co-writer Will Forte told reporters gathered in NYC. Director and co-writer Jorma Taccone said, “We were desperately trying to avoid that at all costs.” “We didn’t want to write that, and we wouldn’t want to see that,” said Forte.
“It was such a different experience than writing for the show,” said Forte. “Every step of the way, we really came up with the most wild ideas possible and we kept thinking, ‘Somebody at some point will come in and put a stop to this and say, “You cannot do this. That’s weird, that’s disgusting,'” and it never, ever happened… We were so exhausted that we kept thinking of weirder and weirder ideas.”
Co-writer John Solomon was also on the panel with Taccone and Forte, who all write for Saturday Night Live, but was fairly silent in comparison to his caffeinated cohorts. Later, costars Kristen Wiig and Ryan Philippe also joined the party, offering insights about MacGruber, being sweated upon, and Val Kilmer’s email habits.
Kurt Loder at MTV:
One walks in to any movie based on a “Saturday Night Live” skit with basement-level expectations. Still, the new “MacGruber” manages to disappoint. The most interesting thing about the picture is that, with a little tweaking, it might actually have been turned into an enjoyable parody of an ’80s-style action flick: Bullets fly, stuff blows up, doorway-size heavies lend menace, and it’s all been rendered with a knowing fondness for the form by cinematographer Brandon Trost (who also shot “Crank: High Voltage”). But too early on, comedy begins cropping up, and it’s all sub-basement from there on out.
“SNL” enthusiasts will know that the skits this picture seeks to inflate are riffs on the ’80s TV show “MacGyver,” the hero of which was a gun-shy secret agent capable of combining the unlikeliest oddments — a cufflink, a crayon and a cantaloupe, say — into useful tools in stressful situations. The skits mine laughs from the manic incompetence of their special agent, MacGruber (played both there and here by Will Forte), and from the explosions he inevitably fails to abort. The movie attempts to do the same, but after maybe 20 minutes of Forte’s frantic, one-note mugging, it’s left with nowhere else to go — and there’s still more than an hour of this thing to sit through.
Stephanie Zacharek at Movieline:
Once in a while a funny line or absurd sight gag will amble into the foreground, only to recede immediately in the rear-view mirror of memory. Forte is handsome enough — he’s ruggedly chiseled and all that. But watching at him strut about, in his quilted vest and plaid-shirt getup, wearing a retro hairdo that’s simultaneously too-pouffy and too-matted, becomes exhausting after a while. The movie is also conspicuously lacking in gadgety ridiculousness: At one point MacGruber drags out a box full of rubber bands, Q-tips and the like and proceeds to fiddle around with them — sticking a penny into his belly-button, for example, presumably on the assumption that it will come in handy later. Later, when faced with the task of disarming an explosive in 1.2 seconds or something like that, he panics at the riotous array of colors found in the tangle of wires before him. Here and there, he improvises: A leafy celery stick stuck pertly into a certain orifice momentarily distracts and astounds some evil-doers. But it doesn’t do much to distract or astound us.
Kitsch abounds in MacGruber, particularly on the soundtrack: You’ll hear enough Toto, Gerry Rafferty and Eddie Money to last the rest of your lifetime. But the only actor here who breathes any life into the movie’s misguided nostalgia is Wiig. Although Wiig has been marvelous in many smaller parts — among them Greg Mottola’s coming-of-age comedy Adventureland and David Koepp’s wonderful modern romance Ghost Town — the scope of her cockeyed genius hasn’t yet been tapped in a big movie role. In MacGruber, Wiig at least gets to rock her look: She’s the kind of girl who’s genuinely flattered by Farrah Fawcett wings and even, bizarrely enough, by twinkly blue eye shadow. Wiig’s timing is, as usual, perfect in its wiggly-waggly way, even though the gags that have been written for her don’t do it justice. Still, in those Landlubber flares, she’s something to look at. In a movie with all the wrong moves, she marches to her own Tiger Beat.
Brian Salisbury at Film School Rejects:
Part of the problem is that there are modern comedy cliches attached to a source that never utilized them in the first place. The completely inept man-child archetype that was the crux of nearly all of Will Ferrell’s films is stapled haphazardly to MacGruber when it really doesn’t need to be. The shtick of the sketch is that the guy constructs makeshift bomb defusing devices that ultimately fail; the look and feel of MacGuyver with the impersonator’s actions being the antithesis of the parodied character. We don’t need him to also be completely moronic and all-too-willing to perform oral sex on other guys to pad out the character. To me, that is lazy screen-writing that apes already pedestrian conventions.
I will say that Kristen Wiig can’t help but be funny no matter what film she’s doing. The woman has a natural comedic presence that seems effortless but is always indicative of her dedication. Ryan Phillippe spends most of the film out of his element, but it’s also clear he’s really trying so I can’t fault him for a phoned-in performance. Val Kilmer prompts a few chuckles, but shows nowhere near comedic competence as he did in, say, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.
Beyond that, I don’t have a lot of nice things to say about MacGruber, it’s exactly as juvenile and brainless as it looks. But the startling lack of hatred I have toward it is more than I could have hoped for – moments of actual hilarity cropping up intermittently. I won’t bore you with details but sufficed to say a perfect storm of unfortunate circumstances coincided with my entering this theater, and I still didn’t think it was awful. That’s not exactly high praise, but it’s far more than I expected.