The surprising thing about MacGruber is how much it doesn't feel like a Saturday Night Live sketch stretched to feature length. Network television would never allow these shenanigans, no matter what time of day. • Being trapped inside a soon-to-explode control room with MacGruber for two minutes now and then hasn't allowed SNL viewers to learn much about him. Like the fact that he drops F-bombs like birdseed, isn't averse to trading sexual favors for job security and almost got married except that a bad guy with a name one consonant short of obscenity killed his fiancee.
We could guess that MacGruber shuns using guns because he's spoofing 1980s action hero MacGyver, who preferred crime fighting gadgets made of junk.
But the SNL sketches haven't revealed MacGruber's favorite move to be graphically ripping throats, and his most successful gadget as a stalk of celery inserted in his butt cheeks to create a diversion. Or the pathetically loud noises he makes during sex.
No, there's a lot about MacGruber that we don't know from TV, and I'm not sure we need to.
Will Forte plays his pitifully deluded creation to the hilt in a penknife movie. There's a lot of material here that only occasionally succeeds on Forte's insanely focused performance. He believes in this character and at times the feeling is contagious. Just not often enough to recommend MacGruber for anything other than home video, where it may develop a minor cult.
MacGruber is a ghost to U.S. Army intelligence when the movie begins, living in a Tibetan monastery as a man of peace. His former commanding officer (Powers Boothe) arrives with a mission: The bad guy (Val Kilmer) has hijacked a Russian nuclear weapon and must be stopped before whatever he plans to do with it.
Assembling a team of muscular experts takes longer than for MacGruber to accidentally blow up his C-team. Plan B is to get over his juvenile tiff with a military expert (Ryan Phillippe) and tear Vicki St. Elmo (Kristin Wiig) away from her living room music career. Together they'll bumble their way to the bomb and a grander version of the sketch template than SNL's budget allows.
Most of the jokes become raunchily numbing, with Kilmer's character name an endless source of double entendres and constant pointing at anyone's private parts. Yet a few gags are briefly hilarious: A flip through MacGruber's memo pad is a scatalogical riff on The Shining, and Vicki extracting a bullet from MacGruber's groin with needle-nose pliers delivers the icky factor.
The nicest thing to say about MacGruber is that it's the best Saturday Night Live movie in a decade. It's also the first one since The Ladies Man in 2000.
Steve Persall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8365. Read his blog, Reeling in the Years, at blogs.tampabay.com/movies.