Last week, various sites began circulating the red-band trailer for MacGruber, a feature film based on the most popular (I guess) Saturday Night Live sketch of the moment.
1: Admittedly, this movie looks worthwhile, and, to paraphrase Liz Lemon, I want to go to there as soon as it opens.
2: I did not say I think this movie will be funny, but that it looks good. Directors of SNL movies–often either Lorne Michaels’ in-house hacks (A Night at the Roxbury‘s John Fortenberry, Wayne’s World 2‘s Steven Surjik) or his mercenary cronies (Superstar‘s Bruce McCulloch, Stuart Saves His Family‘s Harold Ramis)–tend to favor the flat lighting and staging characteristic of live television sketches, and understandably so. I’m not saying MacGruber director Jorma Taccone (the other cute one in Andy Samberg’s Lonely Island troika) is the next John McTiernan, but he’s clearly gussied up the flick a bit. From an industrial perspective, MacGruber is a product of the post-Apatow world, where comedies can no longer drive in the middle lane and be content with a $40 million domestic gross. Some big budget ‘splosions go a long way to playing up the action in the “action-comedy” tag, as does the casting of AB-list actors like Val Kilmer and Ryan Phillippe.
3. There’s something more at work in the look of the movie. The hacky-one-liners-delivered-amidst-kick-assery align with Taccone and company’s continuing love affair with the pop culture of the late 80s/early 90s, but it’s one that transcends mere parody. What makes the Lonely Island’s comedy album Incredibad so enjoyable, for example, is the craft and care apparent in its production and songwriting. They seem just as invested in re-creating genuinely fun music of the era as they do in saying “Wasn’t Color Me Badd silly?” With MacGruber, I see the same balance of reverence and ridicule for the work of Mel Gibson, Steven Seagal, and, of course, Richard Dean Anderson. This impulse was on display in 2008’s underrated Pineapple Express as well, a movie criticized for suddenly turning unfunny in its climactic shootout. Good action movies with comedic elements are a dime a dozen; why can’t we try it the other way around?
4. Also, ok, this movie looks funny. Will Forte has been responsible for nearly all of the post-Weekend Update bizarro sketches worth remembering, and I think he’s got a talent for the absurd (see his work on Tim and Eric Awesome Show, for example) that goes untapped week after week by Seth Meyers’ writing staff of–if all the clumsy gay and fart jokes are any indication–11-year-old boys. Bill Hader recently said MacGruber would be “a hard-R comedy,” an indication that the movie will go to places forbidden by broadcast regulations. The R rating also expands the film’s story possibilities. The most common knock on sketch-to-screen movies is the difficulty of adapting a sketch’s one-note-ness, when, actually, it’s the very quality that should allow creators to expand the premise anywhere they want to. Films like Wayne’s World and The Ladies Man arrived onscreen with their characters and storyworlds rather fleshed-out in comparison to those of MacGruber. MacGruber is just as much a recurring character as the other SNL characters-turned-movies, but its meme-friendly run time prevents the sketch from having to be the guiding narrative force for the film.
5. Man, Val Kilmer looks terrible.