MACGRUBER: The Film Babble Blog Review

MACGRUBER (Dir. Jorma Taccone, 2010)

MacGruber! Making a movie out of a flimsy SNL sketch!
MacGruber! Which will most likely be clobbered by SHREK FOREVER AFTER‘s opening weekend grosses!
MacGruber! His movie actually doesn’t suck!

The first film derived from a Saturday Night Live sketch in a decade (the last being 2000’s THE LADIES MAN) accomplishes something surprising – it’s much better than the sketches on which it’s based. With a few exceptions, like when Betty White famously appeared as MacGruber’s grandmother earlier this month, I’ve found the sketches to be irritatingly repetitive. They always concern a countdown in a control room in which Will Forte’s MacGyver take off fails to halt a bomb’s detonation because of whatever neurosis of the week he’s dealing with.

Of course you can’t make an entire movie out of repeatedly blowing up the hero so borrowing heavily from the 80’s action movie handbook we get a something resembling a plot. Which is – the ridiculously over decorated special operative MacGruber is called out of retirement because his arch nemesis, named…wait for it…Dieter Von Cunth (Val Kilmer), has stolen a nuclear warhead and threatens to, in his words, “turn Washington D.C. into a pile of ash.”

Brought back into action by the always welcome Powers Boothe as Col. James Faith, the mulleted MacGruber assembles a team of beefed up “American heroes with over 100 years of combined combat experience.” The early fate of this team is one of the better jokes in the film so I’ll just say MacGruber has to make do with Lt. Dixon Piper (Ryan Phillippe) as his second in command, and Forte’s fellow SNL-er
Kristen Wiig as Vicki St. Elmo who is just as stuck in the 80’s hairstyle and fashion-wise as our uber-unlikely hero.

There’s a back story involving Kilmer’s killing of MacGruber’s
fiancee (Maya Rudolph) 10 years previous which ups the stakes – MacGruber threatens Kilmer with his signature “throat rip” among other, uh, unsavory things. Apart from that it’s what you’d expect, not that that’s a bad thing, from an over the top action comedy directed and co-written by one of the minds behind SNL digital shorts like “Lazy Sunday.” It’s a hard R with more F-bombs than actual bombs, scads of crude juvenile humor, and the most hilarious sex scene since TEAM AMERICA.

By no means a comic masterpiece since it’s a little too sloppy and choppy to qualify; MACGRUBER is funnier than it has a right to be. Forte’s fearless gusto – which means he’ll even go nude for a laugh – and his mock egotistical line readings make for a performance that’s maybe not a tour de force, but certainly a minor comedic triumph. As his meek but eager love interest, Wiig registers much more favorably than in her recent blank slate roles such as EXTRACT, WHIP IT, and DATE NIGHT. This is sort of odd due to the purposely shallow nature of Wiig’s character, yet she has some of the funniest bits in the film.

Kilmer comes off beautifully as the oily bad guy in Euro trash threads sporting a slimy smirk. It’s the kind of role he’s perfect for as it tweaks his former 80’s it boy status and gives him big artillery backdrops to chew on. Phillippe, apart from some celery silliness which I won’t spoil, plays his role straight as if he’s in an actual action movie and that’s the right idea.

True satire movie-wise is hard to come by these days so don’t really expect any of it in MACGRUBER. It has spoofery in its genes, but it’s more content to exist in the margins of immature buffoonery. For folks looking for a mindless summertime diversion with more than its share of decent jokes, it should do just fine.

More later…

Nick’s Un Caged Fury

(Dir. Werner Herzog, 2009)

So is this a remake? A re-imagining? Is it connected to Abel Ferrara’s 1992 corrupt cop cult classic in any way than the title? The answer is that it is and it isn’t. Both films concern a police detective summed up by the first film’s tagline: “Gambler. Thief. Junkie. Killer. Cop.” Herzog claims that he never saw the ’92 version and that the title is a marketing ploy. Whatever the Hell it is, this is for certain: It’s a weird wild ride through the cracked psyche of, well, a very bad lieutenant and it’s Nicholas Cage’s best work in nearly a decade.

Unlike Harvey Keitel’s character in Ferrara’s film, only credited as “The Lieutenant”, Cage is given a name: Terrence McDonaugh. He is also given a new location – post Katrina New Orleans. His first case after being promoted involves the brutal slaying of five Senegalese immigrants. He follows the leads sometimes with his partner Val Kilmer, but mostly alone abusing his power at every opportunity, shaking down almost everybody for drugs and seeing iguanas and alligators that aren’t there in light fractured shots that are as disturbing as they are wickedly funny.

Take away the crazy Cage character and this would be a routine cop drama going from one witness to another on the trail of the killer, but this is completely about the crazy Cage character with the plot a hazy afterthought. You wouldn’t expect or want a standard cop thriller from Herzog, but this doesn’t exactly qualify as a genre deconstruction either – it’s more like genre destruction. There are no high speed chases or violent fist fights and when the story circles back on itself in the last reel it feels surreal – a satire of dream logic almost.

Though Kilmer barely registers in a walk through of a role there is a strong supporting cast aiding Cage. Eve Mendes (a former Cage costar in GHOST RIDER) is on hand as Cage’s strung out hooker girlfriend, Brad Dourif puts in a sharp turn as a cranky bookie, and Jennifer Coolidge (Stiffler’s Mom!) has an uncharacteristic part as Cage’s father’s (Tom Bower) partner. Also look for Michael Shannon, Fairuza Balk, and Xzibit as a drug kingpin aptly named “Big Fate” if you can actually take your eyes off Cage.

Cage’s outrageously off kilter performance fills the screen with kinetic energy that wonderfully erases the horrible memories of such dreck as the NATIONAL TREASURE movies and the other crappy commercial fare that has plagued his career of late. It’s a gutsy gripping piece of acting that made me giggle throughout. He takes hits from what he calls his “lucky crack pipe” and spouts such baffling bat-shit insane phrases as “I’ll kill all of you. To the break of dawn. To the break of dawn, baby!” He engages in the kind of sordid behavior that makes Harvey Keitel’s take on the character look positively subdued.

BAD LIEUTENANT: PORT OF CALL – NEW ORLEANS (a horrible title whatever its reasoning) is an intoxicating surprise, but I’m sure it’ll rub many moviegoers wrong. It makes no apologies and has no moralistic message so it really stands out in this otherwise saccharin season. It’s an unruly and unhinged work by a master of obsessed cinema. It’s an experience that will linger long after like a vivid nightmare and while that might not sound like a recommendation – believe me it is.

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New DVD Diatribes For A Dreary Rainy Day

Yep, a few NetFlix envelopes torn open and their contents digested on a cloudy drizzly May day goes somethin’ like this:

MY KID COULD PAINT THAT (Dir. Amir Bar-Lev, 2007) Is Marla Olmstead just a regular 4 year old who likes to paint or is she a artistic genius on the scale of the great masters? Bar-Lev’s documentary filmed a few years back follows the Olmsteads – a family from Binghampton, NY whose youngest daughter’s abstract canvasses cause a sensation in the art world. Her paintings are sold for thousands attracting media attention and then controversy. A 60 Minutes piece claims that Marla’s father (Mark Olmstead) actually coached the work out of her or actually produced the paintings himself. This is where the narrative arc becomes “a story about a story” as Elizabeth Cohen (the columnist who first broke the original story of Marla as child prodigy) says. Parents Mark and Laura Olmstead are outraged at the accusation that they are exploiting their child and attempt to prove that Marla is the sole author of her work by filming her with a hidden camera. The plot thickens even more as filmmaker Bar-Lev has growing doubts and voices them, at first alone to his camera in the car driving from the Olmstead home then directly to the parents in an extremely uncomfortable but still compelling scene in their living room.

The cleverly named MY KID COULD PAINT THAT is one of the best of the current crop of documentaries and one that leaves you guessing about what really went down much like CAPTURING THE FRIEDMANS or the more recent THE KING OF KONG. Having been introduced to these folk through these visual essays, whether or not they are balanced portraits, we can follow up through the further internet coverage and make our own conclusions. In Marla’s unique case we are shown many of her paintings and much footage of her at work. Her father Mark does seem to have a controlling influence and her work when filmed on her own appears to be different by style and method to the previous examples. Mark Olmstead also seems overly defensive and makes some ‘digging a hole’ type comments like: “I don’t want this documentary to be about 60 Minutes although everybody wants to talk about 60 Minutes but I’m not! Because I don’t talk about it ever until you guys are around!” Still, as Bar-Lev sensitively stresses through-out the film Marla and her family seem like nice people who got caught up in the craziness of modern art marketing and manipulation. It’s hard not to have sympathy for their situation but if the attacks on the arts authorship have truth to them it’s pretty damning nonetheless. Mother Linda at a frustrated moment says “documentary gold” right before tearfully walking off camera – she says it extremely sarcastically but it may be the most truthful remark made in this movie. When Marla comes of age it will be interesting to hear what she says about her parents and painting dominated childhood – a prospect that I’m sure Bar-Lev is looking forward to.

CONSPIRACY (Dir. Adam Marcus, 2008) I’ve been working on a book about conspiracy movies for some time so I feel obligated to see every such related movie so it’s obvious why this made my NetFlix queue. A quasi-remake of BAD DAY AT BLACK ROCK this awful unimaginatively titled film features a chunky Val Kilmer acting as wooden as possible returning from Iraq to seek out a fellow soldier friend from the war. He travels to a town in the South West which is being re-built as a corporate-run old timey tourist trap by an evil millionaire played by the slimily charming Gary Cole. Kilmer, suffering from constant over dramatic Iraq flashbacks, finds that his friend is missing and everybody is mum on the subject and of course that Cole wants him out of town. One cowboy hatted cliché even says: “ Throw in local hottie Jennifer Esposito, a Keystone cluster of corrupt cops, the most predictable shoot-outs this side of YOUNG GUNS II and the result is craptacular.

Cole, an under-rated actor (TALLADEGA NIGHTS, OFFICE SPACE, THE BRADY BUNCH MOVIE), is the only one who seems to be having fun with his hackneyed character. His smirking scene stealing makes me think that they should have handled this material satirically. Kilmer can do comedy too, as his performances in TOP SECRET, THE REAL McCOY and even in his overblown impression of Jim Morrison in THE DOORS (well, I laughed) attest so really I wish they had gone that route. Instead all we have is this predictable retread through the leftover plot devices of the before mentioned BAD DAY… mixed with the lowbrow aesthetics of the WALKING TALL series and severely sucky remake. As a lover of both good and bad conspiracy themed movies I couldn’t even make counting the clichés a fun game with this being just downright dreadful and well deserving of its Direct-To-DVD status.


Garlin’s debut as triple threat leading man, writer, and director is somewhat slight but like Garlin himself – it’s a lovable schlub of a movie. Best known as Larry David’s manager Jeff Green on Curb Your Enthusiasm Garlin has a long list of credits in comedy and casts lots of longtime buddies from his Second City days and sitcom background in this film. Garlin plays a guy not unlike himself – had he never left Chicago and lived with his mother (Mina Kolb – an original Second City Player). He hears about a remake of the classic Ernest Borgnine movie MARTY, a film he’s convinced he’s perfect for, and pines for an audition. He meets a quirky ice-cream parlour clerk played by comedienne Sarah Silverman and he pines for her too. Then there’s Bonnie Hunt as a “chubby chaser” school teacher (as Amy Sedaris labels her in a nice cameo) who actually may be a more sensible choice for Garlin. That’s about it for what we’ve got here plotwise but Garlin makes it a breezy affable affair at an economical 80 minutes with a nice helping of heart.

I’m glad that I watched MARTY (Dir. Sydney Lumet, 1956) for the first time not long ago. I think it’s the definitive good, not great, movie to win the Best Picture Academy Award. Garlin’s I WANT SOMEONE TO EAT CHEESE WITH references MARTY so often that it posits itself as a companion piece. It indeed would make a good double feature. If you want to make it a triple feature throw in John Candy in ONLY THE LONELY (1991) – another film about a frustrated fat man that owes something to Ernest Borgnine’s turn. I, like many, can relate to Garlin’s struggles with his weight, love-life, and crumbling career. The tone and timing with so many recognizable comedy folk including Dan Castelletta (Homer Simpson!), Tim Kazurinsky (SNL in the 80’s), and Richard Kind (Mad About You, Spin City), all hitting their marks is right on the money – and I mean the low budget money. Jeff Garlin says on the commentary that he feels he made a good, not great movie. He’s right – like the movie he’s giving props to (MARTY of course) it is good and while it would never get an Oscar I’m sure it’ll gain a lot of fans. Now I’m gonna go check out if I have any cheese…

More later…


“Were you at the cinema? Did you go to the the cinema? ‘Cause I went to the movies.”
– Shane Black questioning Val Kilmer on the commentary for KISS KISS BANG BANG

Yep- that’s the only flick I’ve seen since my last post. So here goes :

KISS KISS BANG BANG (Dir. Shane Black, 2005) Its title comes from a phrase coined by an Italian newspaper critic in 1962 referring to James Bond: “Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang” and the whole tone of this movie is just that self consciously hip – well smartass really. It even has a detective film type voice over by Robert Downey Jr. of the smarmy variety (Man, ROMEO IS BLEEDING did the “hey, wait I’m getting a little ahead of myself” fractured narration so much better!) and a convoluted plot which is annoyingly a homage to Raymond Chandler (like what LA crime caper isn’t?) it even quotes the man directly in sequence heading titles. There is some good work here in both the writing and acting – Val Kilmer as Gay Perry (that name is not an example of good work in the writing – just to be clear) makes the smarm work for him and Michelle Monaghan amusingly plays with her lines just like her character toys with her men. Its just that the whole thing is so drenched in smartass sarcasm that it made me think repeatedly “this movie is sooo ten years ago!” George Burns once said “the secret of acting is sincerity. If you can fake that, you’ve got it made.” Wish Shane Black had learned to fake a little better on this project.

Now here’s an email I got from a filmbabble reader about my last post :

“I don’t know…the Silverman thing? some of it’s funny but there’s a line between being funny and just being an arsehole. But I guess that’s pretty much all comedy. I guess i don’t know which side i’m on. Like that lemonade joke, pretty damn funny, mighty clever, but i feel like there’s no real empathy or anything to give it weight; just an easy joke.

Actually really looking forward to Superman, don’t really know why. Haven’t kept up with it in years. hey, ever accidentally lock your keys in your…motorcycle? Now see, that’s sharp and empathetic -who hasn’t been there?


Thanks Drunk for your comments. Keep on reading Film Babble Blog!

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