It’s been a long time since a “Saturday Night Live” skit was turned into a full-length feature, and for good reason. With the exception of a rare few (most notably the first “Wayne’s World” and “Night at the Roxbury”), they’ve all been pretty terrible. Director Jorma Taccone hopes to buck that trend with “MacGruber,” the big screen adaptation of Will Forte’s MacGyver-like soldier of fortune. Though it might seem like the kind of one-joke concept that couldn’t possibly be funny for 84 minutes, “MacGruber” is so unrelenting in its attempt to win over the audience with childish humor that you can’t help but laugh along.
MacGruber (Forte) was once regarded as the country’s greatest hero, but in the ten years since the murder of his fiancée, he’s given up his gadget-making days and retreated to South America to live in a monastery. But when his old nemesis, Dietrich Von Cunth (Val Kilmer), steals a nuclear warhead with the intention to blow up the White House, MacGruber is recruited by Col. James Faith (Powers Boothe) to come out of retirement and save the world once again. After he blows up his team of former military buddies, MacGruber enlists the help of longtime friend Vicki St. Elmo (Kristen Wiig) and by-the-books soldier Lt. Dixon Piper (Ryan Phillippe) to track down the warhead and pound some Cunth.
If you laughed at that last bit, then there’s a good chance you’ll enjoy “MacGruber,” because the script is positively overflowing with that kind of juvenile wordplay. Co-written by Forte, Taccone, and fellow “SNL” scribe John Solomon, the trio does a surprisingly good job of taking a series of minute-long skits that all invariably end up with MacGruber blowing up and expanding it into a real story. It’s not a particularly great story, mind you, but it gets the job done for a film more concerned with setting up the next big joke. There are a lot of jokes that don’t really warrant more than a snicker, but some of the film’s running gags – including one involving MacGruber’s Blaupunkt car stereo and another where he obsesses over a rude motorist – will leave you in stitches.
Even the jokes that aren’t necessarily funny still work to some degree thanks to the film’s cast. Forte is excellent as the title character (just wait until you get a load of MacGruber’s trademark combat move), perfectly towing the line between naivety and just plain stupidity, while Kristen Wiig makes the most of her limited screen time. Ryan Phillippe also helps to ground the film as the straight man of the group, and Van Kilmer, although he doesn’t really capitalize on the sheer absurdity of his character, is clearly having a blast playing the villain. Though it gets off to a bit of a rough start comically, “MacGruber” eventually draws you in with its brand of sophomoric humor, pulling out all the stops in the name of comedy (and the ratings board). It’s certainly not the funniest film of the year, but there are enough laughs scattered throughout to suggest that not every film based on an “SNL” skit is complete shit.