The revulsion, the debasement, and the shame: 5 notes on MacGruber
1) MacGruber left me with an overwhelming sense of embarrassment. Mercifully, except for me and a pal, the theater was empty, thank God, but I still wondered if anyone saw me leave that part of the Cineplex.
2) In the midst of all the sickly-saccharine hyped previews for The Karate Kid and Jonah Hex, I didn't expect to stumble upon one of the worst films of the year, and for the first 15 minutes or so I chuckled along with the exposition where I learned that Mac is a "Real American hero" who foiled a terrorist plot, etc. Cheerfully played by Saturday Night Live actor Will Forte, MacGruber returns from the dead to square off against ultra-nemesis Dieter Von Cunth (a jowly Val Kilmer) for blowing up his bride at the altar.
3) Mac's brand of humor follows the Pink Panther/Get Smart model (fumbling goofball hero errs constantly, but still succeeds in the end). MacGruber is also a copy of a copy of MacGyver, a mid-1980s TV show (film version now in development) involving a man who refuses to carry a gun. Instead he slaps together ingenious mechanical solutions (a weapon from a knife,rubber band, and a Q-tip, for example) to foil the bad guys in life and death situations.
4) But then, the debasement kicked in. Once Mac suffers the setback of his A-Team accidentally getting blown up by his own explosives, the military takes him off the case. Suddenly, Mac pulls down his pants and offers to fellate Lt. Dixon Piper (Ryan Phillippe) in exchange for helping him form a new team. With no transition, Mac crumbles into a servile, whiny nonentity who reminded me of the limits of what actors might endure to get noticed. Mac demeans himself repeatedly as he spouts off poop and anal jokes with the grim insistency of someone banging at a telephone pole with an aluminum baseball bat. At one point Mac appears with a celery stalk stuck up his rear to distract the bad guys (a joke that sad Ryan repeats later. Is there a limit to the indignities of being in a Hollywood release these days?). At another point, during a beer break, Vicki St. Elmo (poor but game Kristen Wiig with feathered blond hair) stands up and announces that she has to use the bathroom.
"To do number one or number two?" asks Mac gleefully.
"I'm not saying," replies Vicki, smiling.
"Then it's number two!"
At moments like this I wonder--who is this fourth grade humor directed to in this R-rated film?
5) In all, MacGruber is this year's answer to Land of the Lost, a soulless, Godless stretch of craven time-sucking attention-whoring dreck, an absence masquerading as a presence, an emperor with less than no clothes on (but with a celery stalk). With his beard-stubble and mullet, Will Forte may think he's cute, but his brand of terminally ironic humor has all of the appeal of watching humanoids twitch on a screen. We see a man debased, so we are debased, and there's nothing to consider but the reminder that we all have the potential to sink this low. Later in the movie, Mac gets a couple ironic montage sex scenes to register his potency. He says, "I like holes!" Vicki says, "I'm a virgin." He says, "Not for long!" We also get treated to an image of MacGruber cheerfully defecating upon a corpse. What does it say about us, what kind of post-Borat cultural desolation have we attained when a movie like this gets wide distribution in Cineplexes across America?