"MacGruber" summons up memories of mullets, "MacGyver" and Mike Myers. A blood-spattered, hit-or-miss character comedy of the "Wayne's World"/ "Austin Powers" school, "MacGruber" manages to be nostalgic and profane in equal measures, a movie that's retro and retrofitted to suit the new cutting edge in screen farce.
Will Forte's thin "Saturday Night Live" sketch is stretched out and taken to places network TV hasn't yet been. It's a game attempt to raunch up the standard issue "SNL" sketch film for the R-rated Age of Judd Apatow. The first 15 minutes are really funny, the next 30 mildly amusing and the rest a bit of a bore.
MacGruber is an ex-Navy Seal, ex-Army Ranger, former tight end for the University of Texas-El Paso with 16 Purple Hearts and three Congressional Medals of Honor. In other words, "the best." He's the guy Col. Faith (Powers Boothe) calls on when arch villain Dieter Von Cunth (Val Kilmer) steals a Russian missile in that part of Siberia that looks mysteriously like the desert just outside of Los Angeles.
MacGruber breaks out his vintage Miata with its removable Blaupunkt stereo, rounds up his team, accidentally gets them killed, and must settle for old colleague Vicki (Kristen Wiig) and Lt. Piper (Ryan Phillippe, the straight man here). They've got to track down Von Cunth - and yes, they love saying his name - and keep him from nuking Washington. MacGruber wants to rip out a few throats ("that's my main move") and whip up gadgets that he expects to blow up, cripple, distract and otherwise foil the bad guys (they never do). Just don't ask him to use a gun.
"Guns are for the weak," he hisses. "Guns are for the stupid."
Like all "SNL" comedies, wacky sketch characters only take this so far. It's a writer's movie, very much in the Myers wordplay tradition, with Forte's clueless killer agent coining colorful catchphrases and remarking that this or that group of bad guys used to be "a lot less dead than they are now."
Forte has standard issue Will Ferrell fearlessness - nervy nudity used to amusing effect, celery stalks included. Wiig, his "SNL" castmate, shares his daring.
Kilmer makes a worthy, if somewhat underscripted villain. And some of the bits - MacGruber idiotically setting traps that the bad guys never fall for - tickle. But this still feels instantly dated, a "Hot Rod" in a "Role Models" era.
Nostalgia works because our memories play tricks on us. "MacGyver" was an adolescent's TV action adventure that hasn't aged well, and even the best "SNL" sketches became bloated movies that barely hide their shortcomings. Funny as it sometimes is, "MacGruber" is still a comedy for those juvenile enough to laugh at every f-bomb as though it's the first time they've ever heard a word that naughty.
Produced by John Goldwyn, Lorne Michaels, directed by Jorma Taccone, written by Will Forte, John Solomon, music by Matthew Compton, distributed by Universal Pictures.