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AUSTIN — Utterly disposable but diverting, “MacGruber” manages to spin feature-length product out of an idea that few would try expanding beyond a “Saturday Night Live” skit. Unlikely to catch fire at the box office, it leaves unanswered the question of whether star Will Forte will be able to break out and carry comedies on his own. Screening here in what director Jorma Taccone said was a not-quite-locked cut, the movie stretches the material about as far as it can go.
Forte plays the title character, who doesn’t pull off nearly as many science-fair tricks with household implements as his similarities to TV’s “MacGyver” would suggest. (The movie’s funniest nod to this schtick has Forte preparing for a mission by arming himself with strategically stashed pushpins and dental floss.)
The team of “SNL” vets behind the film is less interested in one TV show than in mocking a decade’s worth of action/adventure cliches, as MacGruber gets called out of his self-imposed South American exile to hunt the villain who killed his bride on their wedding day. He assembles his crackerjack team in a quick “putting the band back together” montage — but things go awry, and he must make do with only a woman who would rather be writing pop ballads (Kristen Wiig, whose performance is the sharpest thing here) and a still-green soldier (Ryan Phillippe) who idolized MacGruber until he actually had to work with this incompetent, cowardly man.
Screenwriters Forte, Taccone and John Solomon fixate on some amusing bits of ’80s nostalgia (the hero’s mullet, of course, and his attachment to the removable car stereo in his Miata), but also invest too much time in lazy gags like repeating the nearly-a-naughty-word name of Val Kilmer’s villain (Dieter Von Cunth) ad nauseam.
Forte doesn’t try very hard to make sense of a character who is a complete dolt most of the time but has a few ninja-like moves up his sleeve, and the movie’s scoffing tone doesn’t make this contradiction part of the fun, as the first “Austin Powers” film did. But then, nobody involved seems to have those kind of aspirations for “MacGruber,” a jerry-rigged contraption whose rubber-bands-and-baking-soda construction is lucky to work once and then fall apart.
Venue: South by Southwest Festival
Opens: Friday, May 21
Production companies: Relativity Media, Michaels-Goldwyn
Cast: Will Forte, Kristen Wiig, Ryan Phillippe, Powers Boothe, Maya Rudolph, Val Kilmer
Director: Jorma Taccone
Screenwriters: Will Forte, John Solomon, Jorma Taccone
Executive producers: Erin David, Seth Meyers, Tucker Tooley, Ryan Kavanaugh
Producers: Lorne Michaels, John Goldwyn
Director of photography: Brandon Trost
Production designer: Robb Wilson King
Costume designer: Susanna Puisto
Music: Matthew Compton
Editor: Jamie Gross
Rated R, 84 minutes
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