Spoofs these days often bear only a passing resemblance to the genres and films they’re spoofing. To cite a particularly egregious example, Epic Movie took on as parody fodder such exemplars of ambitious, expansive, big-scale filmmaking as Nacho Libre and Borat. Jorma Taccone and Will Forte’s MacGruber errs in the opposite direction. It’s so obsessed with getting the hair, clothes, beats, clichés, music, and conventions of cheesy ’80s action movies in the Cannon vein right that it sometimes forgets to include jokes.
The first Saturday Night Live-derived film in more than a decade casts co-screenwriter Will Forte as the title character, a jeans-wearing, mullet-sporting ’80s throwback/MacGyver parody with the cockiness of an action hero and the problem-solving skills of a bumbling comic sidekick. The film opens with mentor Powers Boothe luring Forte out of retirement to track down arch-nemesis Val Kilmer, a sinister tycoon named Dieter Van Cunth who killed Forte’s wife on their wedding day.
MacGruber’s commitment to replicating the look and feel of its satirical subject extends to having supporting players like Boothe (essentially playing Richard Crenna’s paternalistic mentor from the Rambo films) and Ryan Phillippe (as Forte’s by-the-book sidekick) deliver the same performances they would in a straightforward action movie. MacGruber’s stone-faced approach to parody makes everyone Forte’s straight man; he’s an oasis of silliness in a sea of action-movie tropes played straight. Yet it’s the random silliness that scores, whether it’s Forte’s singular manner of distracting adversaries, his obsession with the license number of a driver who antagonized him, or his offer of sex as a first and last resort. MacGruber alternates quick bursts of laugh-out-loud funniness with long dry stretches. It isn’t exactly good, but for audiences in search of nothing more than a few silly chuckles, it should prove good enough. If nothing else, MacGruber proves yet again that it’s always wise to be wary of films whose supporting characters have crude double entendres for names, a principle that perhaps should be known as the Tugginmypudha Rule, after Ben Kingsley’s “humorously” named mystic in The Love Guru.