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.