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In late-summer of 2009, director Jorma Taccone and co-writer/star Will Forte traveled to Albuquerque, New Mexico to begin shooting their $10 million-budgeted film MacGruber, based on a popular Saturday Night Live skit created by Taccone in 2007 that featured a MacGyver-esque doofus repeatedly failing to disarm bombs. The R-rated movie seemed like a sure success based on its tiny budget, inspired casting, and the popularity of Forte’s mulleted “hero,” who had even featured in massive Pepsi Super Bowl ads. The 28-day shoot wrapped without incident, and seven months later Macgruber was released into 2,551 theater screens, only for critics and audiences to react as if MacGruber had personally upper-decked their toilets. Critics throat-ripped the film, which ended up with a Rotten 48% on the Tomatometer, and audiences proved to be as stingy as MacGruber himself, resulting in a $9 million worldwide box office and a theatrical run of about three weeks.
Ten years later, the film has built an audience of die-hard fans who embrace MacGruber’s mission to stop villain Dieter Von Cunth (Val Kilmer) from destroying Washington D.C. The once maligned screenplay by Forte and John Solomon is now appreciated for its flipping of action movie tropes and its borderline psychopathic dedication to making MacGruber as horrible as possible — while still somehow making him likable. The film looks like a $30 million dollar movie because of the inspired work by cinematographer Brandon Trost and production designer Robb Wilson King, and the assured direction by Taccone, who was making his feature debut, is so focused and fearless that it has to be appreciated (his drunk DVD commentary is pretty epic, too).
As MacGruber celebrates 10 years of polarizing audiences, we decided to look back at what makes it such a beloved cult classic.
(Photo by Greg Peters/©Universal courtesy Everett Collection)
Looking back at MacGruber now, Taccone, Forte, and Solomon couldn’t have believed that their hilariously aggressive R-rated comedy would be as successful as other SNL-based films like Wayne’s World or The Blues Brothers. They were asking summer movie audiences to embrace a profane movie best suited for midnight screenings and home viewings courtesy of the cool friend who let you borrow the DVD. It didn’t feature any A-list stars, it earned poor critical and audience (C- Cinemascore) reviews, and it was sandwiched between $100+ million earners Iron Man 2, Shrek Forever After, Sex and the City 2, and Robin Hood.
MacGruber also features one of the most unlikable, insecure, and chauvinistic protagonists — which was the joke — ever put on screen. Unsuspecting audiences expecting an SNL farce were treated to moments like MacGruber urinating on the charred corpse of his nemesis and sex scenes punctuated by grunting and sweating with pliers and a ghost. These rough edges chased off the majority of the film’s viewers but were embraced by a loyal audience who were able to get on the film’s wavelength.
Will Forte’s MacGruber follows in the footsteps of other oddball cult characters like Jack Burton (Big Trouble in Little China), The Dude (The Big Lebowski), and Ash Williams (particularly in Army of Darkness), who initially threw audiences for a loop but became fan favorites years later when people began to realize how amazing they were. Between its disappointing box office results, middling Tomatometer score, and divisive comic sensibilities, MacGruber is the perfect example of a cult classic.
There’s a moment in MacGruber when his teammates Vicki Gloria St. Elmo (Kristen Wiig) and Lt. Dixon Piper (Ryan Phillippe) are being shot at by mercenaries, and a distraction is necessary. Rising to the occasion, MacGruber pulls down his pants, shoves a stalk of celery in his posterior (Forte’s mom was on set that day), and prances around to draw attention away from his partners. His plan works, the bad guys are wiped out by Piper, and MacGruber takes credit for the kills (classic MacGruber). What makes the scene work is that there’s no winking at the camera or goofy caricature; Forte plays MacGruber totally straight. It’s this commitment that allows him to pull off the kind of moment when MacGruber explains exactly how far he’s willing to go to enlist Lt. Piper’s help. You believe his desperation, hubris, and sadness, and that’s what makes him unique.
Will Forte fully inhabits the 54-year old character (someone did the math), who has no problem crying, pleading, or getting naked in a cemetery to have loud sex with the ghost of his wife. Forte somehow finds a way to make MacGruber nuanced enough for us not to hate him, but also not quite likable enough for us to admire him. The guy is a complete idiot who uses his teammates as human shields, and he doesn’t understand why Von Cunth — his former best friend — hates him after he stole his fiancée and convinced her to abort his child (pretty dark for an SNL movie, right?). Despite all of that, MacGruber actually gets things done (albeit usually in a roundabout or incorrect way); he rips throats, defuses bombs, and gets revenge on KFBR2392 (Forte actually wrote out all of the KFBR2392 doodles in his notebook).
Forte does everything in his power to make the character look bad onscreen, and we appreciate that effort. It takes someone who is committed to the role and doesn’t mind looking stupid in the process, which is admirable in its own way and frequently priceless in comedy.
“Our budget was not huge, and as a result of that, we were kind of given free rein to do whatever the hell we wanted to do, which was really exciting.” – Will Forte, A.V. Club, 2010
One benefit of a miniscule budget (for a modern-day, wide-release film) is that there aren’t many studio notes to consider or nervous executives lingering around. Nowadays, $10 million is probably the budget for a Marvel movie’s craft services alone, and since Taccone and crew were able to stay on schedule and complete each day’s shot list, they further avoided more eyes on the project. They took that freedom and created an action film with moments so twisted, you don’t know if you should laugh. MacGruber’s monologue about how he met his deceased wife is jaw-dropping, and it’s told in such a matter-of-fact way that it takes a moment for the joke to register. Even Ryan Phillippe’s disgust is so subtle that it doesn’t immediately clue you in to the fact that it’s supposed to be funny. That’s the occasional brilliance of MacGruber.
The finale of the film sees Mac engaging in a super violent confrontation with Von Cunth. At first, MacGruber is only too eager — as he has been for the entire film — to cut off Von Cunth’s penis and shove it down his mouth. But when Mac realizes the appendage in question was blown off in an explosion he himself failed to prevent, he pushes Von Cunth off a cliff, shoots him with a machine gun on the way down, launches a grenade at his lifeless body, and finally urinates on the flaming corpse. The overkill is exceptional, and even though it’s playing on over-the-top kills in prior action films, the scene is edited so straight that it gives viewers zero catharsis in regards to the villain dying. Taccone and Forte ask the viewer to accept an awful lot of awfulness and doesn’t apologize for it, because MacGruber the rare film that really goes for it, consequences be damned.
“The Legendary MacGruber. Former Navy SEAL, Army Ranger, and Green Beret. Served six tours in Desert Storm, four in Bosnia, three each in Angola, Somalia, Mozambique, Nicaragua, and Sierra Leone. Recipient of 16 Purple Hearts, three Congressional Medals of Honor, seven Presidential Medals of Bravery, and starting tight end for the University of Texas, El Paso.”
When we are first introduced to MacGruber, we learn that he faked his death and has been living in Rambo-esque isolation in Ecuador since his fiancée was blown up by Dieter Von Cunth on their wedding day. After Phillippe’s Lt. Piper recalls MacGruber’s past achievements, a child disrespectfully steals MacGruber’s necklace and makes a fool out of him. For the next 85 minutes, the film pumps MacGruber up, only to promptly deflate his hero credentials each time.
Taccone and Forte were inspired by Die Hard, Rambo: First Blood Part II, and Road House, and they wrote MacGruber as an homage to them. They took the well-known tropes of those films — the heroes are amazing lovers, brilliant with guns, and impossible to kill — and flipped them on their heads. While MacGruber is occasionally successful (he literally can rip throats, remember), his lovemaking is sweaty and loud, he’s afraid of guns, and he rather enjoys having bullet holes in his body.
In the end, MacGruber saves the day, but he blows up his first team of war heroes, uses his comrades as human shields, and puts his crew in dangerous situations that are so frightening they pee their pants. In other words, he’s far from a hero, despite his “heroics,” but that also makes him a rather effective parody of the action stars who preceded him.
After 10 years, the sight of Kristen Wiig disguised as MacGruber or the bearded hitman Hoss Bender is still hilarious. Wiig’s performance as capable agent and talented vocalist Vicki St. Elmo is an absolute delight. It’s an all-in performance that features her screaming loudly in coffee shops and dodging Will Forte’s sweat during their outrageous love scene. The brand of weird self-delusion that she brings to the film serves as the perfect complement to MacGruber’s antics — the two of them seem happily in sync discussing whether Vicki’s going to take a number one or two when she walks off to the bathroom.
On the other hand, Ryan Phillippe’s performance as Lt. Dixon Piper is wonderfully straight-faced, and he’s at his best when he’s listening to MacGruber recall the shocking details of his history with Cunth, his body language subtly communicating the gradual horror that overcomes him. Val Kilmer is also perfectly cast as the pony-tailed Dieter Von Cunth, bringing balance to Forte’s manic energy with his wry delivery and sarcasm. Powers Boothe adds dignity and gravitas to the role of Colonel Faith, and former WWE wrestler Chris Jericho offers a scene-stealing cameo as Frank Korver, a friend of MacGruber who loves hearing his dick jokes.
MacGruber is the star of the show, of course, but without a supporting ensemble who understood the material, the movie couldn’t have worked. That’s why we hope the folks at NBCUniversal have the good sense to recruit the same cast for the MacGruber TV series — co-written by and starring Forte — that was announced earlier this year for the Peacock streaming service. That’s right: Soon you’ll be able to watch the clueless buffoon spout casually offensive lines and blow up his friends every week, and if done right, it could be a lot of fun.
MacGruber was released on May 21, 2010. For another passionate defense of the film, check out our book, Rotten Movies We Love, which celebrates 101 movies from the green end of the spectrum that deserve another look.
The dearth of truly quality movie DVDs continues, as most of the brand new releases this week of films that came out this year are quite solidly Rotten. Having said that, we’ve also attempted to fish out a few good re-releases, as well as one indie film that was Certified Fresh but didn’t see much action at the box office. There were also a handful of Blu-Ray titles which were simply reissues of previous releases (Forbidden Planet and Stardust, for example), so we decided to leave those off the list. So have a look and see if anything tickles your fancy:
Movies based on Saturday Night Live skits haven’t had the most impressive history on the Tomatometer, and for good reason: they’re typically best-digested in their original format, running in short sketches around five minutes long. But every once in a while, there’s an SNL movie that comes out and, while it doesn’t blow the critics away, it may succeed in garnering a few decent reviews. MacGruber is one such film. Based on SNL’s bumbling, incompetent version of MacGyver, MacGruber sees Will Forte as the titular operative, who must work together with his love interest Vicki St. Elmo (Kristen Wiig) and young soldier Dixon Piper (Ryan Phillippe) to bring down the man who killed his wife, Dieter von Cunth (Val Kilmer). Critics felt that the film too often mistook shock value for humor, but that when it succeeds in getting laughs, they’re big laughs. So it could be a hit-or-miss for you, but if you’re looking for a mindless, absurd comedy, this might do the trick.
Spy movies have seen a resurgence as of late, what with recent releases like Knight and Day, Salt, and The American, and action-comedies have been popular as well. It only makes sense to pair up a couple of beautiful leads in one such action-comedy about a recently single woman (Katherine Heigl) who meets the man of her dreams (Ashton Kutcher), only to discover that he may be a highly trained spy on the run from contract killers. Seems like a simple premise that could be broad enough to be effective, but the critics say there is too much in Killers that we’ve all seen before, leading to a lack of chemistry between Heigl and Kutcher and producing few laughs or thrills. If that sort of “been there, done that” feeling doesn’t bother you, though, who knows? You might find this fluffy piece of entertainment worth your while.
Michael Douglas has been taking on somewhat lower-profile pictures for a while now, but he’s set to return to the big screen to reprise one of the roles that defined his career, namely that of Gordon Gekko in the Wall Street sequel. Last year, however, it was the strength of Douglas’s considerable acting chops that helped to elevate a small independent film about a car magnate whose life is spiraling out of control. Thanks largely to his performance, Solitary Man landed a solid, Certified Fresh 82% on the Tomatometer, despite the fact that Douglas’s character was kind of an unlikable cat. So for those of you who are fans of the actor and just chomping at the bit for something that shows off his talents, this would be an excellent pickup to spend an evening watching.
The works of Tennessee Williams have proven to be fruitful fodder for Hollywood in the past (A Streetcar Named Desire, anyone?), but the translation from page to screen still requires an artful touch. This was, however, apparently absent from the making of The Loss of a Teardrop Diamond, a period piece based on a long-lost Williams screenplay from 1957. Bryce Dallas Howard plays Fisher Willow, a southern debutante who falls in love with a farmhand (Chris Evans), but who fears her mother’s (Ann Margaret) rejection and attempts to pass off the farmhand as a wealthy suitor. Of course, complications ensue, and heated family drama results. Unfortunately, while some critics felt that Howard gave it her all, most would have been content if this script had never brought to the screen, calling it everything from a “curiosity piece” to the “low fat version” of Tennessee Williams melodrama. Nevertheless, fans of the playwright might just be curious enough to see this film, which opened at the tail end of 2009.
There are a handful of great films about the movie-making business, and Robert Altman’s 1992 film The Player has come to be recognized as one of them. Featuring an all-star cast that includes Tim Robbins, Peter Gallagher, Vincent D’Onofrio, Greta Scacchi, Fred Ward, Whoopi Goldberg, and Lyle Lovett (yep, Lyle Lovett), not to mention the countless other cameos, the film was based on Michael Tolkin’s novel of the same name. The story focuses on Hollywood producer Griffin Mill (Robbins), who begins receiving threatening postcards from a disgruntled writer whose proposal he once rejected. When he attempts to confront the writer he thinks is sending the postcards, tragedy strikes, and the mystery becomes more complicated. The Player was notable not only for its outstanding performances, but for its humorous and simultaneously scathing satire of the industry, earning an outstanding 98% on the Tomatometer en route to Certified Fresh status. This Blu-Ray version doesn’t come with a whole lot of mind-blowing extras, but the regular fare is here: audio commentary featuring Altman and Tolkin, a featurette, and some deleted scenes.
Despite some of the flack he’s gotten over the Star Wars prequels and the most recent Indiana Jones sequel, no one can deny the visionary work of George Lucas. 1971’s THX 1138 marks the beginning of Lucas’s feature film directorial career, and the film has become a touchstone for sci-fi geekery the world over. Robert Duvall plays the titular character, a citizen in a dystopian future where sexual activity is forbidden and order is maintained through the mandatory ingestion of narcotics. When his female “roommate,” LUH (Maggie McOmie) becomes disillusioned with the system and decides to discontinue medication for both herself and THX, THX begins to feel all the emotions previously numbed, and with the help of other disillusioned citizens, he attempts to escape. THX 1138 is a well-regarded classic of sci-fi, both for its themes and its unique and effective presentation of the future. This particular reissue comes with all of the special features found on the 2004 2-disc DVD of the film, and includes commentary with Lucas and Walter Murch, lots of featurettes (sound design, history of American Zoetrope, making-of), and even Lucas’s original treatment for his USC student film on which THX 1138 was based.
This week at the movies, we’ve got a fairy tale finale (Shrek Forever After, starring the voices of Mike Myers and Cameron Diaz) and a clueless commando (MacGruber, starring Will Forte and Kristen Wiig). What do the critics have to say?
Everyone’s favorite ogre returns this week in the fourth (and reportedly final) installment of the Shrek franchise, but is there enough fairy tale magic left after Shrek the Third? Unfortunately, the critics don’t all seem to think so. Presented in 3D (a franchise first), Shrek Forever After finds its titular hero longing for the good old days, when he was still a regular ogre. When the conniving Rumpelstiltskin tricks Shrek into giving up a day from his past in exchange for a day as a regular ogre, Shrek unwittingly signs away the day of his birth, effectively rewriting the history of Far Far Away… as if he never existed. Though critics say Forever After has its share of moments, and it’s a step up from the third installment, most also felt that the film felt entirely too familiar and formulaic.
While Saturday Night Live has produced some of America’s best comedic talents over the past few decades, its track record on film is hardly as impressive. Most films based on SNL sketches have done poorly, with a few rare exceptions like The Blues Brothers and the Wayne’s World films. This week, Will Forte’s bumbling action hero, MacGruber, finds himself thrust into an international espionage comedy on the big screen, and it’s up to him to save the world from the dastardly Dieter Von Cunth (Val Kilmer) and his nuclear warhead. So far, only a handful of critics have chimed in, but most of them have been pleasantly surprised by what they felt was a relatively effective and enjoyable sendup of 80s action movies. Continue to check back as more reviews roll in. (Also, check this week’s Total Recall to see a ranked list of films based on SNL sketches.)
Also opening this week in limited release:
For decades now, weekend TV viewers have enjoyed two reliable pastimes: complaining about the latest cast of Saturday Night Live, and tuning in anyway. Through deaths, ratings scares, and constant creative turnover, SNL has persevered — and along the way, it’s taken some of its most popular characters and turned them into feature films. Of course, just like the show’s ratings, its big-screen success has been through some ups and downs — and with SNL premiering its impressive 40th season this weekend, we thought now would be the perfect time to take a look back at every movie that got its start as a sketch. Live from Rotten Tomatoes… it’s Total Recall!
Julia Sweeney was in countless skits during her SNL run, and got plenty of laughs along the way, but the character she was most closely identified with was the androgynous Pat, whose indeterminate sex was the focus of a long-running series of sketches that attracted such guest stars as Linda Hamilton and Harvey Keitel. Still, not even Sweeney thought a full-length movie was a good idea; it took studio sweet-talking (and cash) to get the project rolling. Of course, once the original studio bailed on It’s Pat, everyone involved should have known they were headed for disaster — and when Touchstone finally stepped in to release the movie and gave it a three-city release, the critical knives were out. At zero percent on the Tomatometer, It’s Pat is not only the worst SNL movie, it’s one of the worst movies of all time — “Patently atrocious in every conceivable way,” in the words of eFilmcritic’s Scott Weinberg. About the only positive thing that can be said for It’s Pat (aside from “it’s only 77 minutes long”) is that it featured a Ween cameo and the underrated Charles Rocket in a supporting role as Kyle Jacobsen, the neighbor obsessed with deducing Pat’s sexual identity.
Before Will Ferrell could make a name for himself as one of the most bankable actors in Hollywood, he had to suffer through A Night at the Roxbury, the feature-length version of the SNL sketch about a pair of obnoxious club patrons who can’t help bobbing their heads in unison whenever they hear Haddaway’s “What Is Love?” It’s a thin premise, even held alongside some of the other entries on this list, and even during their best moments, the Roxbury characters were more absurd than truly funny — but when Hollywood comes calling, you have to open the door, even if the project in question includes the fateful five words “starring Richard Grieco as himself.” Written by Ferrell and co-star Chris Kattan, A Night at the Roxbury invented a suitably outlandish backstory for the head-bobbing Butabi brothers, making them the sons of a fake plant store owner (Dan Hedaya) who wants Ferrell’s character to marry the daughter (Molly Shannon) of the lamp store owner next door so he can…well, it really doesn’t matter much. Suffice it to say “What Is Love?” is involved, Richard Grieco is suitably convincing as himself, and the critics wanted nothing to do with any of it. In the words of Cinemaphile’s David Keyes, “those who manage to sit through all 81 minutes of it deserve a medal of bravery.”
In 2000, the same year Tim Meadows concluded his long run on SNL, his most famous character finally got his cinematic due: The Ladies Man, an 84-minute look at the exploits of Leon Phelps, the Afro-wielding, cognac-sipping talk radio host and sex therapy expert. As SNL characters go, Phelps might have had a fair amount of cinematic potential, but The Ladies Man arrived three years after the sketch’s debut, after its star had already left the cast, and burdened by a script (co-written by Meadows) that produced little in the way of laughs. Still, its 11 percent Tomatometer is ever so slightly deceiving; even a number of the critics who panned the movie found it relatively harmless, and by blending ribald humor with a wonderfully wacky cast that included Billy Dee Williams and Julianne Moore, it earned the begrudging admiration of writers like Mike Miliard of the Boston Phoenix, who wrote, “The Ladies Man is pointless and should never have been made. But check your brain at the door and it almost stacks up to a snifter of Courvoisier and a handful of butt.”
One of the most popular SNL characters of the early 1990s, the blissfully ignorant self-help guru and cable access host Stuart Smalley was a rite of passage for many of the show’s guests — including Michael Jordan, who was famously unable to keep a straight face during his segment. Audiences, alas, found resisting laughter far easier — the few who saw it, that is. Released in 1995, Stuart Saves His Family was an unmitigated disaster for everyone involved — Paramount Pictures, which grossed a mere $911,000 during its brief theatrical run; director Harold Ramis, whose previous releases included Caddyshack, Ghostbusters, and Groundhog Day; and star Al Franken, who bore the brunt of the film’s failure and was more or less forced to retire the character from the show. It’s hard to feel too badly, though, for the group that took a perfectly silly skit and puffed it up into an uneasily sentimental feature about such unfunny topics as property law, estate settlements, and 12-step programs. If there had ever been a way to bring Stuart Smalley to the movies, this feature wasn’t it. As Joe Leyden wrote for Variety, “It isn’t good enough, it isn’t smart enough, and, doggone it, most people won’t like Stuart Saves His Family.”
Arguably the unsexiest schoolgirl in pop culture history, Mary Katherine Gallagher gave Molly Shannon’s hyperventilating, armpit-sniffing dark side hilarious free rein during a series of skits that found her clashing with nuns, schoolmates, and, in one notable episode, Whitney Houston. Still, despite her popularity, Mary Katherine was sort of a one-note character, which meant that for her 1999 theatrical debut, she needed a fairly outlandish backstory (courtesy of screenwriter Steve Koren, who also had a hand in A Night at the Roxbury). Turns out Mary’s a special ed student, as well as an orphan whose parents were trampled to death at a Riverdance-style competition, and…well, at one point, Will Ferrell shows up as an exasperated Jesus Christ (one of two roles Ferrell played, along with the dance-inventing Sky Corrigan). Does it sound like a bit of a mess? Critics thought so — and although many of them appreciated Shannon’s immense likability and total commitment to the role, most echoed the sentiments of Roger Ebert, who wrote, “Here is a portrait of a character so sad and hapless, so hard to like, so impossible to empathize with, that watching it feels like an act of unkindness.”
More than 25 years after they first appeared on SNL, Dan Aykroyd and Jane Curtin’s pointy-domed clan of Remulakians finally made their way to the big screen. On paper, Coneheads sort of looked like a slam dunk — the characters were fondly remembered from their original run on the show, and this was the era when not only Wayne’s World was proving SNL sketches could make good movies, but old shows like The Brady Bunch and The Addams Family were pulling in big bucks in theaters. Unfortunately, despite all that — and a cast stuffed with series vets like Adam Sandler, Phil Hartman, and David Spade — Coneheads failed to catch on with audiences or critics, with both groups pointing out that the characters just weren’t strong enough to support a movie of their own. Wrote Chris Hicks of the Deseret News, “The film itself is like the cinematic equivalent of a clothesline, with a steady stream of skits and gags hung out to dry.”
In 1980, The Blues Brothers helped shine the spotlight on some marvelously talented (and sadly out of fashion) blues, soul, and R&B musicians, all while treating audiences to a terrific wisecracking action movie. Eighteen years later, Blues Brothers 2000 was released, and…well, the music was still pretty solid, anyway. This might seem like damning with faint praise, but really, when you consider that nearly two decades had passed since the original — and that one-half of the Blues Brothers, John Belushi, died in 1982 — getting even the music right seems like a pretty big deal. Remaining original Blues Brother Dan Aykroyd earns points for trying — he reunited original director John Landis, many of the musicians who appeared in the first picture, added a few fresh faces on the blues scene, and recruited John Goodman to try and fill the void left by Belushi — but ultimately, no matter how many songs they fit on the soundtrack or how many cars piled up in the climactic chase scene (it was 60, setting a new world’s record), Blues Brothers 2000 couldn’t come close to its classic predecessor. Still, Jeff Vice of the Deseret News was one of a number of critics who appreciated the effort, writing, “While the comedic scenes are hopelessly inept, Landis again shows a deft hand with the staging of the musical numbers, which should provide fans with a good enough reason to see the movie.”
SNL movies have been spun out of some awfully thin premises before, but perhaps none that seemed as ludicrously non-cinematic as MacGruber. Inspired by a belligerently over-the-top recurring parody of the long-running ABC series MacGyver, in which Richard Dean Anderson starred as the titular handyman/hero who could save the day armed with little more than household goods, the movie attempted to bring the film-length funny with Will Forte as MacGruber, a hollering moron whose SNL appearances always ended in disaster. The MacGruber movie wasn’t a total dud; although it failed to find much of an audience at the box office, it featured enough gonzo comedy (including a supporting turn from Val Kilmer as the evil Dieter Von Cunth) to earn something of a cult following among absurd humor enthusiasts. Betsy Sherman of the Boston Phoenix numbered herself among them, writing, “From one of Saturday Night Live‘s lamest recurring sketches comes one of its funniest spinoffs.”
A year after Wayne’s World grossed almost $200 million worldwide, Mike Myers and Dana Carvey returned for more party time at the box office — and while the results weren’t quite as excellent, Wayne’s World 2 still proved a respectable follow-up, especially given that it added another 95 minutes to the legacy of two characters who originally seemed like they’d have a hard time filling up a half-hour sitcom. This time around, Wayne and Garth seek to build on their budding media empire with a concert festival (naturally dubbed “Waynestock”) inspired by instructions handed down from the ghost of Jim Morrison in an Aerosmith-fueled dream. It’s even sillier than the first movie, in other words, with a goofball factor enhanced by the sort of expanded budget that allows for cameo appearances from the likes of Aerosmith, Charlton Heston, and Rip Taylor. Although audience indifference dashed any hopes of a Wayne’s World 3, the sequel was surprisingly well received by critics like the New York Times’ Janet Maslin, who wrote, “This film is sometimes too familiar, especially in early scenes that deliberately repeat the first film’s gags. But the formula isn’t tired yet.”
If you’re going to make a movie about the type of suburban youth that spent a lot of time hanging out at rock shows in the late 1980s and early 1990s, you could hardly pick a better director than Penelope Spheeris, the filmmaker who gave us the Decline of Western Civilization series — and for Saturday Night Live, the cable access mullet enthusiasts known as Wayne Campbell (Mike Myers) and Garth Algar (Dana Carvey) were the perfect characters to end the show’s long cinematic drought. Probably the most popular complaint leveled against SNL movies is that you can’t stretch a five-minute sketch out to film length, and really, there’s no reason anyone should have been able to build a decent script around a pair of catchphrase-spouting doofuses who hang out in a basement, rocking out and talking about babes. Wayne’s World solved this problem by embracing the absurdity of its very existence, sending the movie way over the top and into a land where anything could happen: the fourth wall could be broken, Tia Carrere could star in a hit film, and Queen could score a Top Five hit with a 20-year-old song. There’s a plot buried under Wayne’s World‘s trucker cap, but it isn’t really important; the only thing the movie is really concerned with is making you laugh — early, often, and usually in spite of yourself. As Time Magazine’s Richard Corliss put it in his review, “Hollywood surely accepts the movie’s message: laughter is the least expensive therapy. And audiences may happily parrot another Wayneism to Myers: ‘He shoots! He scores!'”
They may have gotten their start performing in killer bee outfits, but the Blues Brothers were never entirely a joke — Dan “Elwood Blues” Aykroyd was a lifelong disciple of the music, and John “Jake Blues” Belushi developed a fascination with it through his friendship with Aykroyd. Though they were often derided as dilettantes in a genre whose lifeblood is authenticity, Aykroyd and Belushi actually played an important part in restoring some of the blues’ commercial potency; when they made their 1976 debut on SNL, disco was king, and their band (which released its first album, Briefcase Full of Blues, in 1978) employed some great blues and soul musicians when they really needed the work. This respect for the music extended to the Blues Brothers’ 1980 feature, which placed legends such as James Brown, Aretha Franklin, B.B. King, Cab Calloway, and Ray Charles in the middle of the action — and made sure audiences were introduced to relatively unsung heroes like Steve Cropper and Donald “Duck” Dunn in the bargain. The script might have meant that whole “mission from God” thing as a joke, in other words, but for some music fans, they weren’t far from the truth — and like the music the titular duo took their name from, The Blues Brothers has aged gracefully. A cable and home video favorite, it also enjoys praise from critics including the Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw, who wrote, “The mere spectacle of Elwood and Jake in their shades isn’t quite as giggle-inducing as it presumably was back in 1980, but the stunts are still awe-inspiring, and there’s plenty of laughs. They really were thinking big.”
Surprise! Yeah, we know most people don’t identify this 1992 political mockumentary with Saturday Night Live, but writer/director Tim Robbins debuted the character in a short film for the show in 1986, which makes Bob Roberts a branch on the same family tree as It’s Pat. Fortunately, that’s just about all they have in common. Robbins’ lefty politics received their first cinematic airing with this sharp satire, which he starred in as the titular presidential candidate, who uses dirty politics and disingenuous folk songs to campaign against the Democratic incumbent (played by Gore Vidal). As a broadside against the rise of identity politics, Bob Roberts is as unfortunately prescient as it is ruefully funny; as a musical mockumentary, it’s one of the few This Is Spinal Tap-inspired features that truly stands on its own. Of course, Robbins has become such a polarizing figure that it can be difficult to see his films clearly, especially when they carry such an obvious political agenda — but if you can set all that aside, you may find yourself agreeing with Time Out’s Geoff Andrew, who wrote, “Bob Roberts is not merely a satirical fictional biopic, but a wry exploration of the relationship between political reality and manufactured image.”
In case you were wondering, here are the top SNL movies according RT users’ scores:
1. The Blues Brothers — 93%
2. Wayne’s World — 85%
3. Bob Roberts — 79%
4. A Night at the Roxbury — 70%
5. Wayne’s World 2 — 63%
6. Superstar — 61%
7. Stuart Saves His Family — 50%
8. The Ladies Man — 43%
9. Blues Brothers 2000 — 38%
10. Coneheads — 37%
11. MacGruber — 34%
12. It’s Pat… The Movie — 25%
Take a look through the rest of our Total Recall archives. And don’t forget to check out the season premiere of Saturday Night Live.