‘MacGruber’ (2010): Is adaptation of a faux adaptation a modern cult classic?

He’s crude and he’s rude, and he’s another in a long line of Saturday Night Live underachievers at the big-screen box office. Now, you can catch MacGruber again on home video! Just don’t forget the celery…

By Jason Hink

Mill Creek Entertainment has re-released the 2010 spoof-of-a-spoof on Blu-ray and DVD (with a transfer that looks great to these eyes). Will Forte stars as the titular hero, MacGruber, along with Kristen Wiig as Vicki Gloria St. Elmo, Ryan Phillippe as Lieutenant Dixon Piper, and Val Kilmer as the evil Dieter Von Cunth (you’ll love that name, especially when it’s said out loud). There are no special features in this edition of the ‘R’-rated feature, but English subtitles are included.

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After spending the last 10 years “dead,” MacGruber resurfaces in present-day 2010 when a terrorist group led by evil mastermind Dieter Von Cunth (Val Kilmer) steals a nuclear X-5 warhead and threatens to kill the U.S. President and every member of congress (stop dreaming, people—this is only fiction). Tracking MacGruber down are Col. Jim Faith (Powers Boothe) and Lt. Dixon Piper (Ryan Phillipe), who locate the elusive former Green Beret, Navy SEAL and Army Ranger meditating at a chapel in a foreign land. MacGruber initially declines to return to action, but since it’s Von Cunth they’re after—and Von Cunth killed MacGruber’s former fiancée, Casey (Maya Rudolph)—he accepts, and the silliness begins.

MacGruber the movie is based on MacGruber, a series of pre-recorded comedy sketches that aired on NBC’s long-running Saturday Night Live from 2007 to 2010. By 2007, I had all but stopped watching SNL, but I do have vague memories of these sketches and the character of MacGruber, itself a parody of TV’s MacGyver, an action-adventure favorite that aired on ABC from 1985-1992. In a television (and movie) landscape littered with reboots, sequels and re-imaginings, I was happy that MacGyver was getting what looked like a Naked Gun-style satire treatment instead of a movie “reboot” that exists solely for making fun of an old franchise, à la Starsky and Hutch. (Nonetheless, I still enjoyed that Starsky & Hutch movie…and MacGyver still got a TV reboot later in the 2010s.)

I hadn’t seen MacGruber since catching bits and pieces here and there on TV over the years, so this time I popped in the Blu-ray and poured a drink (or three) to pass the time, and while it is stupid (that’s the point, right?), I found myself gut-chuckling several times throughout. If you’re a fan of old action TV shows like the aforementioned MacGyver and The A-Team, and movies like Lethal Weapon, Die Hard, and the Rambo series (I am), then there’s a better chance you’ll appreciate MacGruber. As opposed to straight up satire, director Jorma Taccone and scripters Forte and John Solomon cleverly craft what amounts to your typical, action-filled buddy cop film, with everyone mostly playing it straight except for MacGruber. And that dynamic makes for some truly funny moments.

In one ongoing bit, having been out of civilization for 10 years, MacGruber has a tendency to live 10 years out-of-date. For instance, he drives a bright red, 90s-era Mazda Miata with the top down…and no matter where he goes while undercover, he pops out the car’s removable stereo so it doesn’t get stolen (as he would have done back in the 90s). This is pushed to hilarious extreme when MacGruber, dressed to kill in a Bond-like white suit, infiltrates Von Cunth’s Vegas nightclub…and when the door man offers to check his his car stereo, MacGruber waves him off as if the man was going to steal it instead!

A cat-and-mouse espionage thriller ensues, with MacGruber more intent on annoying Von Cunth than bringing him to justice. And to do it, he makes a series of incompetent plans that consistently puts his own team in danger (check out the hilarious fate of his initial team at the beginning of the adventure, played a by a gaggle of real-life pro wrestlers). Will MacGruber stop evil Von Cunth and put him away for good? Will he stop the launch of the X-5 warhead before it destroys the U.S. political establishment? And the biggest question: how many of MacGruber’s allies will survive him? Utterly incompetent and supremely narcissistic, MacGruber somehow turns out to be a likable hero.

In 2009, the SNL MacGruber sketches received a jolt of wider popularity when a series of Pepsi-sponsored MacGruber commercials aired during the Super Bowl (complete with original MacGyver Richard Dean Anderson playing MacGruber’s father). With the commercials proving popular, the time was right for SNL producer Lorne Michaels to give the green light to Forte, writer Soloman and director Taccone for a big screen adaptation. The MacGyver connection is obvious, but what gives the film punch is the filmmakers’ obvious love for 80s and 90s action movies. With over-the-top special effects, gunfights, missile launches and explosions, MacGruber is just as fun as a brainless, mid-tier action film as it is a straight-up comedic parody (I thought the same about 2017’s big screen Baywatch parody, which also mounted satisfyingly staged action sequences despite being played for laughs).

But is it good? Or funny? I reckon that’s purely up to the viewer. I can think of people in my life that would watch this with mouth agape, never crack a smile, wondering what the hell anyone could find funny about such silly sh*t. But I also know people who love this crap, and if you’re one of those people who like stupid, dumb comedy, you’ll get at least a few chuckles out of it (and if you’re a fan of those old action movies, even better).

Critics in 2010 were mixed on MacGruber, and the reviews hovered around the average mark, which I tend to agree with. The movie grossed around $9.3 million at the box office against its $10 million budget, so it was no world beater. But watching it in semi-locked down, over-sensitive 2021, I couldn’t help but think that even 2010 seemed miles away from where we’ve arrived today, with some jokes and gags bordering on that all-to-familiar phrase we hear nowadays: “They could never do that today.” For that reason alone, young adults and teens who enjoyed this in 2010 will certainly look back on it fondly, where it’ll garner a cult following not for being wholly original or supremely subversive, but for what today’s society has become (just read any recent article on the James Bond franchise, and the direction it’s heading).

But perhaps a better way to judge MacGruber will be to look at how the filmmakers approach the character and subject matter moving forward. As of this writing, a new MacGruber TV series is in the works with much of the movie’s cast returning. Filming on the series was completed in August 2021, with the series set to premiere at some point on the NBCUniversal-owned Peacock streaming service.

But before that officially hits your smartphone screen, be sure to pick up this Mill Creek edition of 2010’s MacGruber for a proper primer.

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