Saturday, May 22, 2010

esoterica: I ♥ Jorma Taccone's "MacGruber"

Auteurs at work: Forte and Taccone on "MacGruber"
Jorma Taccone's seemingly negligible "MacGruber" is actually an attempt to do something different within the constraints of an industry constipated by formula and fear. So it's no surprise that the studio releasing it never bothered with advance screenings and the critics reviewing it never bothered to actually watch it. Only the stalwart Glenn Kenny got it.

Granted, its source material - a recurring "Saturday Night Live" skit - doesn't offer much promise, but then neither did John Landis' "The Blues Brothers" (1980) nor Harold Ramis' "Stuart Saves His Family" (1995), two titles that have become personal favorites of mine, irrationally so.

On SNL, Jake and Elwood Blues (John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd) were simply occasional musical guests, while Stuart Smalley (Al Franken) stared into a mirror as his own new-age motivational speaker. The inherent skimpiness of the two fueled the imaginations of their makers.

On TV, each "MacGruber" sketch ended with its delusional hero blowing up everything, including himself. It's MacGruber's macho delusions that liberated the shared, fertile creativity of Taccone and writer-star Will Forte, whose idea was to take their idiot hero, keeping his vanity and stupidity intact, and plopping him inside the framework of a straightforward action film, rather than an all-out comedy.

Only Forte goes for the laughs here as he floats through the film in a constant state of confident obliviousness, distracted only by his own thoughts and paranoia. MacGruber is part Man of Action (Richard Dean Anderson-style, natch), part nudism enthusiast (Forte strips down in a heartbeat), part Jackass (ah there, Johnny Knoxville!) and part George W. Bush (meaning the character is dated in more ways that one).

Everyone surrounding him - Val Kilmer, Powers Boothe, a very game Ryan Phillippe and even Forte's SNL cohort, Kristen Wiig - play their roles relatively straight, as if they are in something along the lines of Sam Peckinpah's "The Killer Elite" or his "The Osterman Weekend."

"MacGruber" is esoteric, funny and strange - three things that most Hollywood film's decidedly aren't these days. I liked it.


Bill said...

Thank you for the open-minded review of "MacGruber." Hopefully it may help steer people to see it while it is still around. I don't think it will last long, unfortunately. Kudos and gratitude!

Tammy said...

Excellent coverage of the Will Forte film, which is certainly one of the most singular releases this year. It is a shame this film was written off so soon and so quickly. But, as you imply, its appeal is subtly esoteric and remains elusive. I am heartened by the fact that, like most films these days, its DVD will be jam-packed with extras and outtakes.

J. Kaiser said...

I'm not so much shocked that you liked as I am that you even saw it.

joe baltake said...

I know what you mean, John, but like books, you can't judge a movie by its cover. It's always fun - and heartening - to be surprised by a film that, on paper, seems to have little potential.

J. Kaiser said...

Heck, I watched the trailer and thought,"If this is the best stuff in the movie, this is going to be a bigger bomb that "It's Pat"." As it is, you posted your thoughts on it a day late. After two weeks of release it is nowhere to be found in Sacramento. Will now have to wait for NetFlix.

wwolfe said...

I continue to find it interesting that Ryan Phillipe, with little or no notice, has made more good, or at least interesting, movies than his much more heralded ex. I look forward to giving a fair look at "NacGruber," when it makes its not-too-distant debut on HBO.

a.n. said...

Watched it on hbo last night. Still laughing. You can see how much fun this was to write and perform in. Naming the villain, Dieter VonCunth of Cunth enterprises.... yeah. It is indeed strange, and I scrutinized the characters, wondering what they thought about signing up for these roles. Ryan Phillipe gives it some gravitas, and Powers Boothe some Airplane-like parody... but not too much. The gag with taking the car radio everywhere, and all the other period stuff was done so earnestly that the stupidity of it sort of gets respected somehow. Forte knows he has to play it straight for it to work, and he pulls no punches.