Is 'MacGruber' the last 'Saturday Night Live' movie?

saturday-night-live-moviesImage Credit: Greg Peters; Everett CollectionYou knew that the blood was on the floor the moment the critics, like Lisa, took out the long knives and began to slash away. Yet even given the worst. dumb. movie. ever. spitballs that were hurled at it, the box office returns for MacGruber had to be scary, and a bit of a shock, even for those who avidly follow the genre it belongs to: the bad Saturday Night Live movie. Now, I’m tempted to say that “bad Saturday Night Live movie” is a perfectly redundant phrase. I mean, just let your mind drift back over all the Lorne Michaels-mentored, here’s-what-you-crave, beloved-character SNL spin-off movies that have crashed and burned, and all for the same reason: because they were belabored, post-expiration-date one-joke follies that should never have been big-screen comedies in the first place.

A handful of them have their moments — teensy throwaway chuckles of jovial naughtiness amid the wreckage, and MacGruber has a few of those, too. Will Forte, with his gift for velvet-voiced smarm, makes MacGruber a posing, macho-phrase-making ’80s tough guy who, from his frosted long hair to his fits of backslapping myopic sincerity, hasn’t quite shaken off his ’70s roots. He’s a rebel who’s really a cry-baby conformist. I laughed at the way that he blasts sensitive-guy hits like “Rosanna” and “Steal Away” from the removable radio of his too-small cherry-red sports car, or at how, when he’s desperate to get his way and pleads, “I will suck your f—in’ d–k,” he says it with a little too much conviction.

On paper, MacGruber probably looked like the perfect SNL spin-off, because a parody of a brain-dead action comedy is still a brain-dead action comedy, and that means that the jokes can ride along on a commercial chassis of fireballs and renegade-military-man clich├ęs. But what you feel at a movie like this one when you’re not laughing is…tepid numbness. It’s that old, familiar SNL movie feeling. And the response to MacGruber says that the feeling may finally have worn out its welcome with audiences.

The Saturday Night Live spin-off comedies first came into the world as real movies, starting 30 years ago, in 1980, with The Blues Brothers (though I have to say that I’ve never much cared for it — too many car crashes and too much instantly dated white-guys-in-shades fake hipsterism). The movie that really put the genre on the map, though, was Wayne’s World (1992). It was pure up-from-the-rec-room goofiness, but Mike Myers, who obviously had what it took to become a major screen star, made Wayne Campbell more than a glorified midnight-sketch ticker-tape joke machine. He spoke to the shwingy, head-banging universality of teenage suburban passion. Wayne’s World 2, which is actually hilarious and underrated, came out a year later, in 1993, and so did Coneheads, a from-the-vaults SNL comedy that no one in the world needed, but that on its own sci-fi satirical-kitsch terms wasn’t half bad. Then, in the middle of the 1990s, the SNL movie assembly line jumped the shark, and it more or less never looked back. It kept jumping that same shark, over and over again.

The beginning of the end was It’s Pat: The Movie (1994), in which Julia Sweeney’s androgynous dumpling wallflower, with her borderline-mentally-challenged whine, simply couldn’t fill up the space of a motion picture. You weren’t laughing with Pat, or even at her — it’s more like you were trapped at an unfunny audition that never ended. At that point, with the kind of pride that can be bred only by ignorance, the duds kept coming: the tinny, inert Stuart Saves His Family (1995), the egregiously “nostalgic” let’s-pick-the-bones musical Blues Brothers 2000 (1998), and then, finally, the movie you can blame for making the paper-thin toxicity of the SNL movie an entrenched part of the landscape: A Night at the Roxbury (1998), in which Will Ferrell and Chris Kattan, giving their disco-bopping Butabi brothers the ungainly and tedious pedestal of a feature-length backstory, squashed our laughter all the way to the bank. Terrible as it was, the movie squeaked by at the box office, more or less launching Will Ferrell’s movie career into orbit. And so the SNL spin-off comedy, instead of dying on the vine, was enabled once again.

The most painful thing about these movies is that they take characters, like MacGruber or It’s Pat! or Tim Meadows’ Ladies Man, who were inspired creations within the quick-blast universe of short-form TV and make you forget that you ever loved them. It’s a good thing, isn’t it, that this genre wasn’t kicked off in the ’70s, so that it never had the opportunity to soil our memory of classic SNL bits. Can you imagine the potential awfulness of a comedy like Wild and Crazy Guys Go Wild and Crazy or Emily Litella Saves the World? Or, from the 1980s, Church Lady For President? Or, more recently, Debbie Downer: Grief Counselor? These days, you can almost hear the Dr. Evil whirring of Lorne Michaels’ mind as he muses, “Stefon Takes Out the Eurotrash? I’ve got it — Gilly Forever!” No, no, and no, thank you. No one needs another SNL movie that’s so funny you forget to laugh.

So what’s your all-time favorite Saturday Night Live movie? And what do you think is the all-time worst one? Despite what I said, are there any SNL characters you would still love to see get their very own Hollywood comedy vehicle?

Comments (101 total) Add your comment
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  • BlackIrish4094

    Blues Brothers was a great movie, don’t know how this author thinks Wayne’s World “put the genre on the map”.

    • orville

      Exactly! The Blues Brothers isn’t only the best SNL movie ever, it’s one of the classic comedy movies of all time too.

    • Cliff

      Owen’s got a point about Wayne’s World “putting the genre on the map.” For 12 years after Blues Brothers, there were no SNL movies, and then Wayne’s World hit big time and opened the floodgates for all that followed.
      And Owen’s certainly entitled not to like Blues Brothers. I also thought the crashed-car gags quit being funny around the 3 dozen mark, but I like the movie more now than I did in 1980, largely because of all the great R&B music I didn’t fully appreciate back then.

      • orville

        Good point, but no SNL movies during that time can only be a good thing. The years in between the “classic” cast and the Wayne’s World era was uneven at best (even during the Eddie Murphy years) and completely unwatchable at its worst.

    • Kristen

      Blues Brothers stood alone as a movie, not just a SNL sketch gone on too long. When Blues Brothers came out SNL was still hip and edgy. The show itself went downhill so they desperately tried to make money by making movies. Wayne’s WOrld was another stand alone movie. I still have never seen the sketches it’s based upon but I love the movie.

  • JLC

    Don’t forget, we just narrowly avoided a Dieter movie.

    • Cliff

      Actually, not getting the Dieter movie was a mixed blessing. Some of the script excerpts that circulated after Myers pulled the plug indicated it might have actually been pretty funny. (Although if the creator of The Love Guru didn’t think it was funny enough, who am I to say otherwise?) Worse, though, was that as part of the settlement between Myers and Imagine Entertainment (which was developing Dieter), Myers ended up doing the deity-awful Cat In The Hat.

    • Flyer

      Thank god for that. The only way I’d want to see Dieter in a movie is if Dieter and Mango could do a Steel Cage Death Match where NEITHER ONE comes out alive.

  • Michel

    I do not understand people’s aversion to “MacGruber”. It is brilliantly hilarious and spectacularly well done. I feel nothing but pity for those who only see legitimate absurdist comedy as “stupid”.

    • To Michel

      And we can feel pity for you. At least we’re the majority of the movie-going population: avoiding this dumb movie like the plague.

      • Juuust a little outside

        You do realize that a majority of the movie-going population made Twilight and the Transformers hits? SO Mr Mensa, I pity you and your lemming tastes. At least you are not alone. Me, I am going to roll up a doobie and enjoy as much plague as I can.

      • Brian

        What an a$$hole you are, “To Michel.” Naysaying is tired. Everyone does it because they think snark looks cool.

      • thin

        I saw it, and I agree with To Michael. I laughed at some of it, but there’s no way I would dream of calling it “brilliant” in any way.

      • candacetx

        Just more proof that Kristen Wiig isnt one-tenth as funny as Lorne Micnaels seems to think she is…

      • Dustin

        What is the majority of moviegoers stance on Paul Blart, Wild Hogs, Martin Lawerence, Matthew Maconoughey(spelling), Ocean’s 12, The Blind Side, Saw Films, Transformers 1 and 2, GI Joe, Garfield, Alvin and The Chipmunks, High School Musical, Pearl Harbor, Pirates Of The Carribean 2 and 3, Star Wars Episodes 1 and 2, Etc. ALL OF THESE MOVIES WERE AWFUL IN STANDARDS OF CLASSY, ARTSY, MEANINGFUL GOOD FILMS BUT MADE A SH%TTON OF MONEY BECAUSE MOST PEOPLE JUST LKIKE WHAT THEY LIKE. SO WHY DONT YOU TAKE YOUR POMPOS ASS TO SUNDANCE AND LEAVE IT ALONE.

    • Myk

      It will be interesting to see. I have a feeling that MacGruber is going to be this generation’s Anchorman or something.

      A move that earns a cult following through repeat HBO/Showtime viewings

    • LaserCats

      Right on. MacGruber was hilarious. I went in with very low expectations and was blown away. I’m definitely seeing again with friends and buckets of beer. The scene where he begs Ryan Phillipe to be on his team is genius, and caused viewer in front of me to walk out on the film. Awe…some.

      • Vinny

        Seriously.. Whoever said Kristen Wigg isn’t funny should be deported!!! Not only is she funny… but probably one of the best SNL has ever had! Also I would marry her!!!!lol! She’s so funny that she’s hott! I love her!!!!!!!

    • rjp3

      Bravo buddy – great funny movie as we who SAW it and got the previews can attest.

      MOOO to the rest who are feeling good about not seeing something that is “hip” to not like.

      Sad.

    • tomm

      Another studio hack posing as a ‘fan’.

    • playhousecinema

      That’s true. MacGruber was well done, and brilliantly funny!

  • Ian

    This may just make me look stupid, but I enjoy Night at the Roxbury just as much as any other middling stupid comedy. Granted I only ever saw it on cable, but I enjoyed it more than many other comedies I can think of.

    Oh, and you forgot Superstar.

    • Monty

      I don’t see how he managed that. I’m still seeing a counselor to help me forget…

  • Strepsi

    The weird thing is, that MacGruber SHOULD have been good! All they needed to do was sppof a real 80’s movie, like Lethal Weapon, and the real TV series McGyver –just like the successful Scary Movie and Austin Powers, the spoof would GIVE the film its plot and endless recognizable genre gags. Instead, it seems the writers went for pee/poo/cum/d*ck jokes… again, and again….

  • dgh

    What MacGruber sucked I did not see this coming!!!!!!

  • Michele

    give Stefon a movie! Bill Hader rocks my socks.

    • Al

      I could actually see that working because so little is known about the character that they could take it in any direction.

    • Steph

      Laser Cats!!!

      • jammypell

        I like goofy comedy stuff too..anything Chris Elliott for example ..but laser cats and macgruber aren’t even funny on snl…Andy Samberg’s musical shorts are funny..but all the stars they reeled in for those others..eh..what were they thinking?

    • Ally

      YAY STEFON! Please give him a movie! And I actually LOVE Night at the Roxbury: I own it, know every line, and think it’s hilarious! Then there is Superstar, which is also funny like Roxbury in the silliest way. I really didn’t think MacGruber was that bad…I wouldn’t probably see it again, but if you go into it not expecting much except a silly pointless movie and have an open mind and let yourself just enjoy it, you can actually get some pretty good laughs out of it. Lighten up!! :)

    • rjp3

      right — because gay stereotypes are original and hilarious

  • Jody

    I watched It’s Pat on Cinemax one afternoon, it’s not so bad. You’ve seen worse!

  • angeljake

    You lost me at “didnt care for the Blues Brothers…”

  • Al

    I have to disagree with the assertion that the ‘MacGruber’ movie looked good on paper. It was a bad premise for a film as the sketch repeated the same joke over and over again. ‘A Night at the Roxbury’ was probably better than it should have been, though it still wasn’t very good. ‘Blues Brothers’ is a classic and ‘Wayne’s World’ is good too. You missed the (admittedly forgettable) ‘Superstar’.

  • Melissa

    The Blues Brothers is one of the greatest movies ever. If you don’t get it, then I feel bad for you.

  • Ethan

    It’s been reported that MacGruber is the lowest grossing SNL movie, but how can that possibly be true next to It’s Pat and Stuart Saves His Family? It also sounds like this one isn’t as bad as those either. I actually think ultimately they’ll make their $10 million back, but it might take a long time.

    • Amy

      It’s the lowest grossing SNL movie in wide release. Neither of the other two received wide releases.

  • Jack

    Awww, does this mean no “Falconer” movie????

  • Kpryde

    Superstar, is one of the best memories I have from High School, my friends and I annoyingly quoted it for years.

  • red

    the blues brothers is the best! and then waynes world but sadly my sister and I keep going back to superstar we quote it all the time I mean yea its really dumb but will ferrell rocked in that movie with the corny dance moves “I call this one the move on with your life” and Molly Shannon quotes were good as well
    Father Ritley: Mary Katherine, what was that horrible thing you said to Sister Eileen?
    Mary Katherine Gallagher: I told her to move her big white butt or I would cold cock her honky ass

    • candacetx

      ummm… riiiiiight… gee, dialog like that just proves how hysterical that movie was… not.

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