Since its launch 35 years ago, the US satirical comedy series, Saturday Night Live, has launched the careers of many stars, including Eddie Murphy, John Belushi, Bill Murray and Michael Austin Powers Myers. At least 10 spin-off films have been made based on the show's recurrent sketches. Unfortunately few of them have been any good and most have been dire. Only The Blues Brothers (1980) and the two Wayne's World movies achieved much success at the box office.
MacGruber is based on a 2006-7 sketch mocking the cult 1980s TV series McGyver which starred Richard Dean Anderson as a resourceful former secret agent who escaped from dangerous situations and overcame lethal enemies using everyday household items rather than weapons.
The SNL sketches - many of which are available on the internet - were often very funny even though they made fun of a decades-old TV programme that young viewers would never have seen. Each brief episode took place in a control room with the mullet-haired, flannel-shirted hero trying to defuse a bomb but getting distracted in the last vital seconds by personal problems such as alcoholism, alimony payments and bankruptcy.
The spin-off movie is nowhere near as good. It includes a half dozen genuinely hilarious laugh-out-loud jokes but is otherwise almost entirely mirthless, its dullness punctuated by jarringly coarse language and rather desperate gross-out gags, including a scene in which the hapless agent distracts the bad guys by walking around naked with a celery sticking out of his behind.
The filmmakers, led by first-time director Jorma Taccone, have tried to widen the satirical focus beyond McGyver so as to make fun of 1980s-style high testosterone action movies like the Lethal Weapon series. Though they hit the mark with hairstyles, music and even the way Hollywood used to shoot sex scenes, such films are too easy to mock and simply not a very interesting target two decades on.
MacGruber, played by Will Forte who looks a bit like Owen Wilson but lacks his easygoing charm, is called out of South American retirement by Powers Booth to deal with the threat of supervillain Dieter von Cunth played by Val Kilmer. The 'h' in von Cunth is, of course, all but silent and the dialogue works the feeble gag of this surname into the ground.
Though MacGruber puts together a top team of former agents he is soon left with only two. Vicky St Elmo (Kristen Wiig) is a would-be folk singer who has a feathery early 80s haircut and a long-time crush on MacGruber. Lieutenant Dixon (Ryan Philippe) is a soldier who has long idolised MacGruber and is shocked to discover that he is, in fact, a boastful and dishonest incompetent with the cowardice of a Flashman.
One of the more interesting and unusual aspects of the film is the sheer unattractiveness and unpleasantness of the hero - screenwriters Taccone, Forte and John Solomon do not seem to be trying to make him one of those obnoxious anti-heroes who is somehow loveable or turns out to have some good qualities.
The best thing in the film is Kristen Wiig, a Saturday Night Live stalwart whose performances in recent comic films like Knocked Up, Extract, and Drew Barrymore's hiliarious directorial debut Whip It have made her an up-and-coming star.