20 June 2010

Wide of the Mark

As something of a regular disclaimer, it's only my opinion here- others are available. As ever, mild spoilers may occur in the process of reviewing, but never so far as to spoil any major plot developments.

I'm back from Edinburgh and will be putting together my Toy Story 3 video diary and the like later in the week- if you really can't wait, my review went up on Den of Geek this morning. For today though, we have the two other films I saw over the weekend, Wild Target and MacGruber, in exchange for the EIFF picks I missed, The People vs. George Lucas and Jackboots on Whitehall.
If The Blues Brothers or Wayne's World are the gold standard in full-length films dredged from popular sketches on Saturday Night Live, then MacGruber isn't really in the same league. Coming from a parody of a show most people will only know of because Marge's sisters like it on The Simpsons, the titular MacGruber looks more like a Michael Bay cos-player than Richard Dean Anderson's resourceful secret agent.

The one joke in the sketches is expanded to parody many 80s action movie cliches as MacGruber chases down Dieter van Cunth, a dastardly businessman who killed his betrothed and has now stolen a nuclear missile.

In broadening out the scope to accommodate the latent homo-eroticism, the over-the-top villains and overwrought romantic scenes of 80s action movies, it's hard to forget that we've been here before, when it was called Hot Shots! and Hot Shots! Part Deux. And more recently, we've seen a tongue-in-cheek magnification of those tropes to the nth degree in the Crank films. MacGruber is neither as funny as Hot Shots! nor as fun as Crank.

I wanted it to be funnier than this, that's why I saw it in Edinburgh over the weekend, knowing it wouldn't be playing in cinemas near me. Instead, it's just a little too matter-of-fact to find really enjoyable. Writer-director Jorma Taccone and star Will Forte don't seem to realise that MacGruber is actually so after the fact that we need something more. The 80s are too far gone to be funny to the teenage target audience and not far gone enough to be immediately funny to anyone else, as with the 60s and 70s in the Austin Powers films.

The cast actually does a pretty solid job and they're more than capable of raising chuckles with what scant wit there actually is on show. It's a puerile and immature film, but credit where it's due to Ryan Phillipe for being fairly funny as the straight man and rookie to MacGruber's raving idiocy, and to Kristen Wiig who really ought to be more broadly known by now than she actually is.

Val Kilmer seems a little stilted as Cunth, but that's possibly him being uncomfortable playing a character who's essentially a dirtier version of a Richard Curtis joke (read his name aloud).

People were laughing sporadically in the screening of Macgruber that I caught, but it's only really hilarious if you find Top Gun hilarious. Oh wait. If you find Point Break hilarious. Oh wait. Look, it's as funny as both those films, but the charm with those was that they weren't meant to be funny. A spoof as broad as this one requires a different kind of viewing approach, and it's just not consistently funny enough.

Not that you were planning to anyway, but if you don't live somewhere that's showing this, don't go to Edinburgh to see it either.

Macgruber is now playing in selected cinemas nationwide.

On this side of the pond, we have Wild Target, a farce about hitmen that features an all-star cast. Emily Blunt plays Rose, an unscrupulous young woman who scams the wrong man when she sells a forged Rembrandt painting for £1 million. Her mark is understandably annoyed, and hires hitman Victor Maynard to kill her. Meticulous but isolated, Victor warms to Rose and instead becomes her protector against the goons that are sent after her in his absence.

It should be said, I love the cast of this thing, because it's a caveat to all that follows. Emily Blunt, Bill Nighy, Rupert Grint, Gregor Fisher and Martin Freeman are all actors I could watch all day, so it's great to see them altogether here. Grint, Fisher and Freeman each display their respective talents for comedy- three generations of comic talent working together, with Grint probably stealing the show. Most of the comedy with Nighy's Victor is that he's a skilled hitman who acts the same way as Nighy always acts- reserved and slightly awkward but with a razor wit- and that much at least is pretty funny.

The trouble is, the rest of the film just isn't that funny. Jonathan Lynn directed the likes of The Whole Nine Yards, The Fighting Temptations and Sgt. Bilko, so that should give you an idea of the calibre working behind the camera. He seems to have moved precisely nowhere since his last British farce, Nuns on the Run, because that's what Wild Target is most reminiscent of.

One Lucinda Coxon wrote the script, and watching the final film, the problem seems apparent. She knows what she wants the film to be, and where she wants it to end, but doesn't seem entirely possessed by the idea of getting there sensibly. Too many throwaway plot and character developments are broached in the second act and then forgotten about, and the desired ending just comes off as absurd. And not in the way it's intended.

Thus Emily Blunt really struggles with a character who's pretty unlikeable. The thing is, it's Emily Blunt- there's not an awful lot she can do to make me outright dislike her in a film, especially with some of the better scenes for her character here. For the most part though, Rose's motivations and actions are nonsensical, and the farce comedy isn't broad enough.

The final result of Wild Target evokes those crappy one-off two-hour comedy dramas ITV used to do, albeit with a much more talented and well-known cast. Where once you'd get James Dreyfuss playing wacky twins, now you have Bill Nighy as a hitman and Rupert Grint as his apprentice. Ironically, this cast is so good, and I enjoy watching them so much, that this actually gets a pass from me. I'm not going to champion it as something to support while in cinemas, but it's worth catching on DVD or on telly somewhere down the line.

Wild Target is now playing in cinemas natiowide.
If you've seen MacGruber and/or Wild Target, why not comment on the films or on my reviews below? And if you think my reviews of only halfway-decent comedies are hard to read, imagine how hard they are to write.

I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.

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