Films based on Saturday Night Live sketches haven’t exactly invited Oscar attention over the past decade or so. Most haven’t even accurately fit the “comedy” label. But leave it to one of the lesser known sketch series featuring one of the lesser known SNL talents to finally bring the laughs. MacGruber may not be a classic or even a top tier comedy offering, but it’s certainly the funniest SNL knockoff to come around in years.
Sporting a cheap wool vest and freshly cropped mullet, Will Forte brings an uncanny knowledge of the beats and expressions of 80s camp action to the title role. And to be clear, an appreciation of this film relies heavily on a deep knowledge of and affection for those familiar 80s genre tropes, with logic-be-damned plotting, incessantly grinning bad guys, and heroes so unrealistically suited to the gravity of their task that you can’t help but root for them all the more. MacGruber sticks to the basic structure of those films religiously, allowing itself to deftly slide in some very funny vignettes and great sight gags that hearken back to just how ridiculous and just how lovable those cheesy old movies really were. A riff on the slow-motion, blue-lit love scenes common to the genre is especially on point, and there’s even a hilarious spoof outside the action world that links back to Jack Nicholson’s crazed repeat writings in The Shining.
MacGruber can slow down at points, sometimes to the point of awkwardness. When the film isn’t at its best, you certainly know it and will find yourself fidgeting in your seat while waiting for the funny to come again. And while the casting is pretty good across the board, top level comedy talents like Kristen Wiig aren’t given enough material to work with and are often pushed aside by the relentlessly crude wailings of the title character.
So this likely isn’t a candidate for best comedy of the year (Kick-Ass currently holds that crown and doesn’t seem likely to give it up), but it’s a solid spoof of a bygone genre that was oh-so-right for its time and place. Richard Dean Anderson would be proud.