It’s been 10 years since the last time a character from Saturday Night Live got a feature length spinoff (that would be the underwhelming The Ladies Man for those keeping score at home), but this week a new entry in the comedy subgenre of SNL movies hits the big screen.
MacGruber started as a brief parody of the ’80s DIY crimefighter MacGyver. The sketches were simple: MacGruber struggled to create a homemade bomb-defusing device while bickering with his scene partners before being blown up in a stock footage explosion.
These 90-second sketches struck a chord with audiences, peaking with a Super Bowl commercial featuring MacGyver himself, Richard Dean Anderson. It’s not exactly a sketch begging for big screen treatment, but one that Will Forte and co-writer/director Jorma Taccone (known for his directing work on SNL’s Internet-ready Digital Shorts) have turned into one of the best SNL movie spinoffs to ever hit theaters.
The reason MacGruber works as a film is because the creators didn’t simply repeat their sketch formula, but expanded the scope of the character to create a loving homage/parody of testosterone-driven action films.
“It’s a lot different than the sketch,” Will Forte says. “I think people are expecting that it’s just going to be the sketch over and over again for 90 minutes, but they should be pleasantly surprised by how different it is.”
“I think in terms of the inspiration, the movie really came from our love of late ’80s and early ’90s action movies,” says Jorma Taccone. “This was our attempt at making an ode to those movies, so we wanted everything surrounding MacGruber to be as deadpan and serious as possible. Out intention was to make it less goofy than you would expect from an SNL movie.”
As a result, the film looks like a glossy blockbuster, is packed with explosions, and features a cast of dramatic actors like Val Kilmer and Powers Boothe playing their silly roles absolutely straight.
MacGruber doesn’t feel like a movie rooted in sketch comedy, but a vintage action flick hijacked by some subversive comic minds willing to have their hero distract machine gun-toting villains by stripping nude and using a stalk of celery in an unnatural manner.
Sure, it’s not exactly high art, but it is incredibly funny and surprisingly cinematic given the origins of the piece.
“When Lorne Michaels suggested the movie, we were as skeptical as everyone else because let’s face it, it’s a sketch about a guy who blows up every week,” says Forte. “We wanted to do something different and started throwing around all these insane ideas.
“Every step of the way, we thought that someone was going to come in and say, ‘Oh, you can’t do that.’ But that never happened. We had so much freedom on this and really were able to make exactly the movie we wanted to make. It was shocking.”