Ladies and gentlemen, for what seems to be the first time, Ryan Phillippe is relevant. He somehow scraped a hosting slot on “Saturday Night Live” over the weekend, but only because he somehow scraped a role in the upcoming film “MacGruber.”
Aside from being known as the jerk who cheated on Reese Witherspoon (and really, who does that?), there’s really nothing about the guy that’s particularly captivating — which might explain why his monologue on “SNL” had absolutely nothing to do with him. Instead, the monologue was about “MacGruber,” which happens to be based off of a “SNL” skit of the same name, which stars Will Forte as a rip-off of MacGyver.
The surprising thing about Phillippe’s monologue is that it addressed a concept rarely — if ever — discussed on “SNL”: skits that are made into movies. As Phillippe tried to discuss the film, he was “asked questions” from audience members (a common monologue tactic utilized when writers don’t know what the hell to do with you as a host) who happened to be popular “SNL” characters, including Kristen Wiig’s “Target Lady” and Andy Samberg’s character from the “Dick in a Box” and “Mother Lover” skits.
“Obviously they can’t give every character a movie,” Philippe said.
So when does a character deserve a movie?
Going over the show’s history, 11 films (“MacGruber” included) have been made out of “SNL” characters. With an 84 percent fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, the most popular of the bunch is “The Blues Brothers.” (However, there are critics who contest the legitimacy of including “The Blues Brothers” pair as originating from a skit, as their appearances on “SNL” were limited to musical acts. However, that’s another debate for another day.) After “Blues Brothers” comes “Wayne’s World,” its sequel and so on.
Looking at the list, however, there are far more duds than there are successes. Seriously, a lot. Maybe “SNL” Producer Lorne Michaels (who has produced all of the “SNL” films except for both “The Blues Brothers” films and “It’s Pat”) just gets a little trigger happy, but if he just stopped to ask himself a couple questions before signing up for these movies, he’d save himself — and moviegoers worldwide — a lot of grief.
1) Can we stand to watch this character for more than 45 seconds?
The Target Lady. Gilly. Ed Grimley. Astronaut Jones. Brian Fellows. All of them are incredibly obnoxious characters whose gimmick revolves around… being obnoxious. And there’s a pretty short timeline for how long an audience can tolerate such a gimmick, and it’s right about 45 seconds. Outrageous behavior is totally fine in small amounts, but when it’s extrapolated into a whole film, we have problems.
There are two prime examples of this: “Superstar” and “A Night at the Roxbury.” The former derives from the skit where Molly Shannon’s Mary Katherine Gallagher goes to Catholic school and, in each skit, sticks her hands in her armpits and smells them. Great movie, huh? The latter, well, you know. Head-bobbing to “What is Love” and scaring off women at the club.
Before greenlighting a movie, you have to be sure you can take a one-joke skit and stretch it into a full-length film without viewers pleading for mercy 10 minutes in. Had Lorne and company considered this beforehand, we’d probably have half as many “SNL”-based movies as we do now.
2) Is there any kind of cohesive plot that can be derived from this character?
Admittedly, this sounds obvious. But again, if we’re dealing with skits that are only funny because they’re obnoxious, then how are we supposed to make a movie out of it?
Let’s return to “A Night at the Roxbury.” In the “SNL” skit, the guys never had lines. The “plot” of each skit was literally the same: head-bobbing to “What is Love” and wondering why the ladies aren’t swooning at the sight of their slicked-back hair and brightly colored suits. To attempt to stretch that into a full-length film must have been problematic (after all, you’re creating almost everything about these guys except for what they look like and what their favorite song is), and that should have raised a red flag to the writers on hand — maybe… they should write about some other character.
“MacGruber” is more promising in this aspect. It’s first and foremost a parody of “MacGyver,” or the guy who can beat the bad guys with nothing more than a pen, bubble gum and a 1969 almanac. Secondly, “MacGruber” is a parody of the action genre as a whole, which is known for overflowing with plot and (though superficial) substance. Oh, and the occasional explosion, which the “MacGruber” trailer is not at all lacking. In general, it’s easy to utilize a character like MacGruber if he’s in familiar territory, like the action genre.
And this is again where several of the “SNL” skits-turned-films fail. Audiences are accustomed to seeing “The Ladies Man” at work on his radio show, and that’s the whole point of the skit. There’s never a real problem (aside from the moment of tension before sipping Courvoisier), nor does it respond to any already-established genre. So it’s an uphill battle, but one that can be overcome. “The Ladies Man” just so happened to fail.
“MacGruber” faces a problem each and every time: There’s a bomb that’s going to go off, and it needs to be stopped. Granted, the bomb always detonates… but the general premise of an action hero trying to save the day translates very easily to the feature-film format, unlike the story of an unorthodox radio DJ offering his advice on sexing up the ladies.
3) Will people actually care?
This is the hardest question to ask, especially in the ’90s, which was the peak of the “SNL” skit-turned-movie. We now have the Internet to help feed our craving for the best “SNL” skits, and can also act as a tool for gauging a skit’s popularity. However, if the decision about what to make into a film rested on hits alone, we’d be sitting through film trailers starring the characters from “Dick in a Box.”
So why “MacGruber” and not “Dick in a Box: The Movie”?
Again, it comes to viability. “MacGruber” is a parody of a TV show as well as a genre that just begs to be made fun of. In other words, there’s a cinematic void that this movie very well could fill in a way “It’s Pat,” “Stuart Saves His Family,” “The Ladies Man” and “Superstar” never could.
Overall, this column is essentially me putting it in print that I have high hopes for “MacGruber.” Not just because I love Will Forte (although Kristin Wiig is better), but because maybe the story of the jackass with the mullet will be the movie that salvages the reputation of “SNL” films.
Cailley Hammel is a junior majoring in journalism and communication arts. Although she’s in the minority, “The Coneheads” will always be at the top of her favorite “SNL” skits-turned movies. Want to talk about it? E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.