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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


MACGRUBER! Kristen Wiig, Will Forte, and Ryan Phillippe star in another lame movie based on an SNL skit. MAGRUBER!
Has there ever been a "Saturday Night Live" sketch that was less conducive to a feature film adaptation than MacGruber? It's a one-joke bit, where the joke is repeated again and again: MacGruber tries to diffuse a bomb using mundane objects, but is unable to prevent it from exploding. On the show, he's repeatedly blown up; in the case of MacGruber, the movie is the bomb and it's the audience that suffers.

To compensate for an extremely thin plot, the filmmakers have decided to spoof the kinds of 80's action pictures that typically starred Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzengger. Highly decorated veteran MacGruber (Will Forte) is called out of retirement when a former nemesis gets his hands on a nuclear warhead, with plans to use it for suitably evil purposes. He assembles a ragtag team of helpers - Vicky St. Elmo (Kristen Wiig), and Lt. Dixon Piper (Ryan Phillippe) - to track down the pass codes, thereby making the warhead itself useless.

The nemesis that the team so badly wants to take down is Dieter Von Cunth (Val Kilmer), who not-so-coincidentally killed MacGruber's wife years before. It is the movie's idea of humor to have a villain whose last name sounds suspiciously close to a very vulgar word. I'm reminded of one of Roger Ebert's famous movie laws - the one which says that only bad comedies feel the need to give characters funny names. You never see that happening in a good comedy.

Spoofing action movies is, by this point, not a new idea anymore. It's been done to death, so watching MacGruber poke fun at the conventions of the genre has no appeal. It simply points out the same things that all the other action movie spoofs have already pointed out.

There's also an over-emphasis on crude humor. My theory on movie crudity is that there is a right way and a wrong way to do it. People like Judd Apatow and the Farrelly Brothers have shown that crude humor can be incorporated into actual stories and used to facilitate the development of fully-realized characters. The other approach is to throw in crudity simply to be crude. MacGruber falls squarely into this category. It finds no context for the excessively gross potty humor, and when it comes to this sort of comedy, context is vital.

The key to making a good "SNL"-based movie is to find a way to take something that's funny in small doses and expand it to sustain a feature-length running time. The world of the characters needs to be broadened so that the same joke isn't simply being repeated. Wayne's World and The Blues Brothers were really the only two pictures to be able to do this (although I personally find Coneheads to be dumb fun). MacGruber, at every turn, shows the limitations of its origins; like The Ladies Man, Stewart Saves His Family, A Night at the Roxbury, and (shudder) It's Pat, the movie seems like a lame "SNL" skit dragged out to 90 minutes.

Will Forte is a very funny and inventive sketch comedian, but I don't think he has the charisma to carry a whole movie. He tends to give his characters one note (usually idiocy), which he never strays from. The Brothers Solomon, Forte's little-seen 2007 romantic comedy, offers more proof of this. On the other hand, the brilliant Kristen Wiig does have what it takes. She often single-handedly saves lame SNL skits, but even her magic isn't enough to make MacGruber work. Interestingly, the funniest performance comes from Val Kilmer, who has spent the last few years toiling in straight-to-DVD junk but now seems ripe for a comeback.

I really didn't find MacGruber to be funny at all. You can see the majority of the punchlines coming well in advance of their actual arrival. And since most of the jokes revolve around sex, bodily fluids, genitalia, and/or bare buttocks, it's particularly easy to guess what the payoffs will be. This makes for a very long, arduous viewing experience. Once again, it is proven that "SNL" sketches are probably best left in New York, live, on a Saturday night.

( out of four)

MacGruber is rated R for strong crude and sexual content, violence, language and some nudity. The running time is 1 hour and 28 minutes.

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