For the past few years, Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer have clogged the airwaves with mundane and ghastly spoofs of the (at-the-time) current popular movies. They may have labeled them by genre, but that didn’t stop them from cramming every pop culture phenomenon in. They didn’t attempt or even care to make a good satire. They just wanted to make poop jokes and mock the celebrities. It’s sad to say that, other than Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, these movies were our only source of movie satire.
Until today! Thanks to Lorne Michaels, writers Will Forte (who also stars) & John Solomon and director Jorma Taccone (one third of the insanely funny comedy band, The Lonely Island), we finally get another good satire. Taccone and company take aim at both MacGyver and all of the cliched action flicks that came out in the eighties with MacGruber. Friedberg and Seltzer, take notes.
Will Forte stars as MacGruber, an ex-special operative who has been presumed dead for the past ten years. When Dieter Von Cunth (Val Kilmer; and if you don’t get the joke, then maybe Shrek Forever After is more up your alley) steals a nuclear warhead, Col. James Faith (Powers Boothe) tracks down MacGruber and asks him for his help. MacGruber accepts, heading back to America to assemble a team of soldiers (played by WWE wrestlers Chris Jericho, Mark Henry, The Great Khali, Kane, MVP and The Big Show) to take him out. After accidentally blowing his teammates up, he begrudgingly works alongside Lt. Dixon Piper (Ryan Phillippe), who he originally refused to work with. Joining them is Vicki St. Elmo (Kristen Wiig), who originally declined MacGruber’s offer (she agreed to do so after hearing about his partner’s deaths). Together, they pull together their best tactics, mainly MacGruber’s wacky and unethical ones, to save America.
What works so well in MacGruber is that you can tell writers Will Forte & John Solomon wrote an action picture first, then added the jokes and satire in. This makes the picture feel like an eighties action movie, leaving it ripe for satire. This is where you should start taking notes, Friedberg & Seltzer. Instead of writing the jokes first, then half-assing the plot, you write the screenplay as if it were the genre you’re spoofing, so all of the jokes and cliches gel together, as opposed to feeling crumpled together. You also have to poke fun at the genre as well, which you two never seem to do.
Ninety-five percent of the time, the jokes work. They range from the borderline tame to the flat-out raunchy, inducing gut-busting laughs upon the audience (the small crowd I was with were doubled over in laughter, as was I). A good portion of the jokes poke fun at all the cliches that accompanied those cheesy action flicks of yore, while still keeping the MacGyver feel to it. Jorma Taccone does a stupendous job of directing it all, making sure the jokes and the actor’s hit the right notes at the right time. He doesn’t rush any of it, letting it flow smoothly. Once again, take notes Friedberg and Seltzer.
The finest attribute MacGruber has bestowed upon it is the fine performance by Val Kilmer as the villain, Dieter Von Cunth (for those of you who didn’t get the joke earlier, I sincerely hope you got it now). Rather than hamming it up, he plays it straight. He’s believable as an arms dealer hell-bent on eradicating America. You could easily lift him out of this movie and place him in a run-of-the-mill action movie, and he’d fit right in. Ryan Phillippe does the same thing as Lt. Dixon Piper. He plays it straight, as if he were playing a lieutenant in an actual war movie. Just as you could with Kilmer, you could easily lift him out of this movie, place him in a war epic, and he’d feel right at home. In doing so, these two fine actors make the jokes and mishaps that surround them that much funnier.
The only gripes I had with the film went hand-in-hand together. As most comedies do, some of the jokes fall flat (the only comedy as of late that came very close to, if not reaching, perfection was The Hangover). Some don’t go nowhere, while others just don’t work. This wouldn’t be too much of a problem, but there was one running joke in particular that grew stale very quickly. That running gag being the puns that MacGruber and gang put forth towards Dieter Von Cunth’s name. I would have found it funnier if they avoided making the puns, as if they didn’t notice how inappropriate his last name was. Just like an action movie would.
Aside from those two minor complaints, MacGruber hits all the right notes. The laughs are plenty and uproarious, the script is written as if it were an action picture first, then converted into a satire, the actors employ good performances without ever acknowledging that they’re in a spoof and the direction is crisp and confident. Along with Edgar Wright, Jorma Taccone is bringing satire back.