The Review: Great comedy double acts of the cinema used to be common, from Laurel and Hardy to Abbott and Costello, from Hope and Crosby to Prior and Wilder, but nowadays we have to put up with the likes of the Wayans brothers or Harold and Kumar. Also, Laurel and Hardy aside, there’s never really been a British pairing to compare; at least until the 21st century, when the unlikely geek stylings of Simon Pegg and Nick Frost have been brought together on worldwide cult hits including Shaun Of The Dead and Hot Fuzz. With a Spielberg movie (admittedly a motion capture one) also in the can, the pair have taken off the Edgar Wright-shaped stabilisers and have written and are starring in their latest adventure, this time with Greg “Superbad” Mottola behind the camera. The pair gained inspiration from their time spent hawking their various other wares at events like Comic-Con, so this sees them start at that very event and get drawn into a road trip with a small grey friend they inadvertently pick up along the way.
It’s testament to how far special effects have come that Paul is a fully realised and integrated character in the story. Even ten years ago, he’d have either been some form of puppet or Muppet with possibly the occasional CG shot and a midget running around in the costume, filmed from a distance, but he gets plenty of screen time and he’s far and away the best thing in the film, thankfully, not only for the remarkably conveyed emotions in his well animated face but also for Seth Rogen’s stellar voice work. It’s also fair to say that Paul gets the vast majority of the best lines, almost as if he’s wandered in from a much funnier movie. His story, as such, is fairly linear but it does take an occasional detour, and along the way manages to pick up additional stragglers, including Kirsten Wiig’s one-eyed Christian and a succession of shady government characters including Jason Bateman and Bill Hader trying to capture Paul before he can reach his goal.
It’s a stellar supporting cast, many of whom get reduced to barely cameos, and some of them do serve to take you out of the story, if only briefly. However, they pretty much all manage to make an impact of some sort, which leaves only two characters who struggle to truly engage, which strangely are Graham and Clive, a.k.a. Pegg and Frost. They have somehow not recaptured the chemistry of their Wright collaborations and end up both playing the straight man in the comedy double act to Paul’s broader laughs. Consequently the movie is as flat as a pancake until Paul arrives, and also nearly gets derailed with the ham-fisted subplot around Kirsten Wiig’s beliefs. While the kinetic energy that Edgar Wright brings might have been too much for this more casual road movie, there’s still a lack of drama or tension at many points in Greg Mottola’s more restrained direction and the eventual outcomes are all signposted a mile off.
That’s not to say there’s not a lot to enjoy, because there is. As well as the titular alien lighting up the screen, Wigg, Bateman and Hader all fill out their roles well and Sigourney Weaver relishes her role as the boss trying to stop Paul’s progress. The whole movie is a love affair to Spielberg, so there’s plenty of nods, nudges and winks and even an appropriate cameo, and if you’re as geeky as the lead characters you’ll have a whale of a time spotting all of the references. Somehow the special magic of the Pegg-Wright collaborations gets missed here, as the references feel more obvious, possibly because of the setting, and drama and pathos are also somewhat lessened. Crucially, it’s just not as consistently funny as Shaun or Fuzz, and so ends up being a movie you’ll probably like rather than love, but it doesn’t stop you wondering what this comedy double have in store for us next.
Why see it at the cinema: The wide open spaces of the US of A get a good airing on the cinema screen, and the giant viewing area will allow you to take in the amazing detail of Paul’s animation at its best. There’s just about enough laughs to warrant the communal viewing experience as well.
The Score: 7/10
The Review: For some reason, it feels like there’s been a long tradition of Saturday Night Live movies that have been successful. Now, there have been a lot of SNL alumni who have had long and profitable movie careers, but in terms of success, the only two sketches to become movies that really made any money or had any longevity were The Blues Brothers and Wayne’s World. Movies such as Coneheads, A Night At The Roxbury and The Ladies Man all did little business and had a poor critical reception, taking ideas and stretching them far too far for audiences to engage with them.
I’d be willing to wager that about as many people remember MacGyver from its references in The Simpsons (Patty and Selma’s favourite show, don’t forget) than from actually watching MacGyver, as anyone under 30 will probably struggle to remember MacGyver from the first time round anyway. I’m over 30 and I do remember it, and the hook of the show was a strong one – in case you don’t remember, MacGyver made useful things of whatever he found around him, usually just odd scraps and bits of rubbish.
Which is a useful metaphor for the movie in question. There’s a whole host of problems here, not least that the whole thing is so devoid of humour early on you actually wonder if you’ve wandered into a serious drama by mistake. References to other 80s and 90s movies or series just serve to underline how much better they all were. Not only that, but there’s an awful lot of set-ups (including the name of Val Kilmer’s bad guy) that you feel yourself waiting for the killer punchline or fantastic payoff on, and it never comes. The pacing is lethargic, most of the movie is badly staged and Will Forte, for the most part, manages to make MacGruber just the wrong side of unpleasant and offensive enough to be largely uninteresting.
However, this movie is based on a comedy sketch, and there are just a few moments within the movie (including a testing coffee shop infiltration and MacGruber acting on his romantic feelings) that range from smile-raising to laugh out loud funny. It’s just a question of how many people will have lost interest before those points, as what you’re getting is extraordinarily mixed in quality, and will just make you pine for the real MacGyver – surely even he could have made something much better than this?
Why see it at the cinema: There’s at most about 15 minutes of top class material here, wrapped up in an hour and a half of utter bilge. Let the buyer beware.
The Score: 4/10