MACGRUBER SCREENED FOR CRITICS at 9 pm the night before it opened to the general public. As cinematic omens go, that's a godawful one; before the film even started, one could smell the stink of Universal Pictures' embarrassment, slowly wafting from the auditorium where MacGruber's 11th-hour screening was to take place.
But then something kinda great happened: The movie started, and the fetid stench of failure vanished. (Like magic!) Despite that godawful omen, turns out MacGruber is fucking funny: It's loud and goofy and absurd and surreal and consistently, legitimately hilarious. Like the best SNL sketches it's based on, MacGruber takes a simple concept and runs with it; unlike most of SNL's shitty cinematic efforts, MacGruber manages to keep its gag going. (Admittedly, this is at least partially due to a couple of really solid recurring jokes, chief among them the fact that Val Kilmer plays a villain named "Dieter Von Cunth," whose last name is repeated with impressive frequency.) For the first time since 1992's Wayne's World, there's an SNL movie that won't make you want to throw yourself off a freeway overpass.
The setup's the same as those of the MacGruber sketches: The mulleted, Miata-driving
MacGyver MacGruber (Will Forte) tries to save the world, usually by piecing together half-assed gadgets with random crap that's near at hand, only to discover he's fantastically incompetent and that his half-assed gadgets never, ever work. (MacGruber's also stupid, selfish, oblivious, obnoxious, egotistical, and occasionally—but certainly not always—homophobic.) Now that he's on the big screen, he has a nemesis—Von Cunth, who's managed to get a nuclear missile—and two sidekicks, Vicki St. Elmo (Kristen Wiig, phenomenal as always) and Lt. Dixon Piper (Ryan Phillippe, bland as always). Powers Boothe also shows up, as does Maya Rudolph, but the focus never leaves MacGruber, who's simultaneously awesome and an ass.
I'm pretty sure MacGruber's cowriter/director, Jorma Taccone—who, along with Andy Samberg and Akiva Schaffer, is part of the Lonely Island comedy group that's responsible for what little punch SNL still has—pulled a fast one on somebody at Universal, 'cause this doesn't feel like a studio picture. MacGruber is melodramatically shot and scored with the über-stylized sheen of an '80s action flick, but plot- and performance-wise, it's off the rails: Forte frequently screams directly at the camera and/or shoves celery stalks up his ass to distract evil henchmen; Wiig occasionally bursts into song; Kilmer, wearing a ponytail and a puffy face that makes him look distressingly like Steven Seagal, gleefully blows up Maya Rudolph after uttering, "Ffffffuuuuuuuuck yooooooooooooo" in slow motion. MacGruber's all over the place, shameless and willing to do whatever it can for a laugh—unlike the relatively safe SNL sketches on which it's based, this film's a hard-R, with welcome doses of profanity and blood and the most intentionally awkward sex scene since those puppets pooped on each other in Team America: World Police.
It's pretty fantastic, is what I'm getting at, but to put it another way: When my only complaint about a movie is that it had a good opportunity to squeeze in a Richard Dean Anderson cameo but they didn't go for it, it's probably safe to give it a whole bunch of thumbs up.