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Special Contributors: MacGruber (2010) by Ted Bertram

Remember when action movies were tough? Back before the Clinton liberals convinced everyone that a sensitive, ponytail-wearing, environment-loving “action hero” like Steven Seagal or a Frenchy like Jean-Claude Van Damme were worth watching, we had real heroes like Chuck Norris and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Nowadays, we have a lot less ass-kicking and a lot more wistful stares and “tough guys” whining about how they don’t want to have to do what’s necessary to catch the bad guys. “It’s too hard!” they whimper. “I don’t want to kill people, even if they did slaughter my entire family and kidnap the President of the United States.”

I’ve long thought this type of prissy “hero” needed to go, and it would appear the makers of MacGruber agree with me. It’s no surprise, then, that the elites in Hollywood torpedoed any possibility of success with an embarrassingly low budget ($10 million) and a low-key, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it ad campaign.

Sometimes, Hollywood doesn’t know what it’s getting into. As with David O. Russell’s terrorist-loving “war film” Three Kings (1999), the makers of MacGruber clearly sold their studio a bill of goods—the story of a liberal action hero forced out of retirement to work for the big bad “jingoistic” military. What they delivered was a sly, winking satire, and clearly the studio didn’t know what to do with it.

Rife with homages to classics like Predator (1987) and Road House (1989), first-time director Jorma Taccone (who co-wrote with John Solomon and star Will Forte) has a clear affinity for the world of Reagan-era action films. The narrative structure and action sequences are a deliberate, satisfying throwback.

It tells a straightforward story: when German terrorist Dieter Von Cunth (a deliciously sinister Val Kilmer) steals a Russian nuclear warhead, MacGruber is called out of retirement by heroic Army Colonel James Faith (Powers Boothe) and paired with steely rookie Dixon Piper (Ryan Phillippe) and doe-eyed vixen Vicki St. Elmo (Kristen Wiig). Their task: find Von Cunth and get the passcodes that will launch the missile. The film is loaded with bombastic action sequences that will keep audiences on the edge of their seats.

What separates MacGruber from both contemporary action movies and classics from the 1980s is the titular lead character. As MacGruber, Will Forte is a preening, simpering crybaby. His performance, and the way the character is written, mark a satirical masterstroke that’s surprising coming from former hippie haven Saturday Night Live. Evidently, the White House isn’t the only home to “change you can believe in.”

Forte (along with Taccone and Solomon) brilliantly subvert the clichés of the modern liberal action hero. When faced with imminent danger, MacGruber starts to scream, cry, and offer homosexual favors to anyone who might listen. Every word he says to his tough-as-nails military cohorts has the smug air of condescension, all the while taking credit for their heroics. MacGruber spends so much time explaining what he’s going to do, the Germans easily and frequently get the drop on him. He’s overly emotional, self-absorbed, and obsessively focused on petty revenge and jealousy, distracting him from the mission at hand. Heck, he doesn’t even know how to use a gun.

Perhaps the filmmakers’ strongest indictment of MacGruber is contained in his tangled backstory with Von Cunth: years ago, after impregnating his mulatto girlfriend (Maya Rudolph), Von Cunth intended to do the right thing and marry her. However, during the engagement, MacGruber repeatedly slept with her, then forced her to call off the engagement and terminate the pregnancy. Most appallingly, it never occurs to MacGruber that his actions and blasé attitude could have something to do with why Von Cunth hates him so much.

The film’s sole weak spot comes toward the end. After a wonderful moment where Dixon Piper finally stands up to his foolhardy superior, the film does a complete 180. Instead of fully committing to the idea of MacGruber as a shrill, incompetent symbol of what happens when the peacenik left tries to act tough, the filmmakers allow MacGruber to save the day—twice!

The writers try to salvage this misguided turn of events by acknowledging MacGruber only saves the day because of things he learned from Dixon. However, it remains patently obvious that a focus group filled with granola-eating Orange County teens forced the filmmakers to shoot a new ending that doesn’t quite fit the merciless satire of liberalism and the conservative values the film generally reinforces.

Despite its ending, MacGruber is a perfect date movie for any couple who loves the visceral thrills and right-thinking no longer found in today’s action spectacles.

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Special Contributors: The Proposal (2009) by Linda Mears

I sometimes wonder if my life would have turned out differently if I’d been a professional. Now, I had and still have a career as a homemaker. But aside from working two summers at Lebo’s Shoe store in high school, I never had a professional job. I was never a book editor like Margaret Tate (Sandra Bullock), so it’s not easy to relate to a character like that. I’d call her unrealistic—I certainly don’t know any women like her—but I can’t imagine a strong woman like Sandra Bullock not just starring in this movie but executive producing if she thought the main character didn’t accurately represent a certain kind of woman.

Margaret has an assistant, Andrew (Ryan Reynolds), who she dumps all over for no reason. The movie tries to tell us she’s stressed out because it’s hard to be a woman in a man’s world. Maybe that’s true, but it’s no excuse to be so nasty. Poor Andrew is so scared of his boss, he orders the same fancy coffee drink as she does, even though he doesn’t like it, just on the off-chance that she spills hers. This is not a woman who’s easy to relate to, let me tell you. I had a much easier time relating to Andrew, even though he’s a man, because, well… Look, my Gary’s not a monster, but he does like his dinner on time. He also likes to have control of the remote. When things go wrong, he can be hard to live with.

Not like Andrew, who’s selfless and compassionate throughout. When he discovers Margaret is a Canadian citizen about to be deported, he graciously pretends to be her fiancé. But he’s smart, too—he only agrees to help her if she helps him by getting him a promotion. Maybe that sounds slimy and self-serving, but you haven’t seen Margaret! She got off easy with this deal, believe me. But things go awry—the immigration enforcer says he’ll give them a test to see if they’re really engaged. Andrew the sweetheart already knows the answers to the questions on the test, but Margaret hasn’t bothered to learn a thing about her assistant. In order to get to know him better, they take a trip to his hometown—in Alaska!

Margaret is impressed to find out Andrew comes from a wealthy family, but I was impressed that Andrew is so down-to-earth. Still, despite their wealth, Margaret has to adjust to the isolation and small-town customs found in Alaska. The locals are eccentric, but not nearly as eccentric as the wacky gang surrounding Dr. Joel Fleischmann in Northern Exposure. They’re actually sort of boring, except for the Hispanic guy from The Office (Oscar Nuñez) as a manservant/stripper. Can you believe it?!

Andrew has some problems with his dad, played by Coach himself, Craig T. Nelson. They have a history together; a bad history, and they don’t get along. Coach is a real man’s-man type, but Andrew is very sensitive and sweet. He doesn’t want to take over the family business. He’s artistic and thoughtful, not serious and business-minded. Andrew gets so flustered by his dad that he announces a fake engagement to Margaret, surprising everyone. Suddenly, the whole family gets involved, including Andrew’s mom (Mary Steenburgen) and grandma (Betty White, still the greatest!).

Over the course of the next few days, Margaret and Andrew really do get to know each other and seem to fall in love. Ironically, by the time they’re truly in love, Coach has discovered it’s all a sham and tries to bribe the immigration enforcer. I won’t tell you what happens at the end, but suffice it to say, Andrew keeps up his charm and adorableness, and he manages to melt the “ice princess” known as Margaret Tate.

This movie made me wonder what would have happened to me if I had kept working at Lebo’s. Maybe I could have hired an employee like Andrew. Of course, I’d never be the type to manipulate and threaten him into marrying me, but what if we had fallen in love? He seems like the type of man who would treat me right and call when he’s working late or going out drinking with “the boys.” Actually, he seems like the type who wouldn’t go drinking with the boys—his boys would probably just want to watch TV, like I do. I’ll bet they would even like Grey’s Anatomy.

I watched this movie over the weekend with my son, Nicky. Nancy, his little sister, was out with her friends. She’s at that age where doing anything with Mom is considered “uncool.” You know how it is. But Nicky was home, so he sat down and watched it with me. He seemed to like it, but when I asked him about it, all he said was, “Andrew’s too good for her.” And you know what? He really is. We’re supposed to like Margaret. She’s the big star and the main character of the movie, but she’s shrill and mean for no reason. The movie strains to make us like her, telling us a lot about her past to make us feel sorry for her and relate to why she’s such a bad person. But in the end, it’s not really happy. Maybe it is for Margaret, but not for Andrew. Margaret gets the good guy, but what does Andrew get? I’d like to see them make a sequel that shows Andrew standing up for himself and breaking away from Margaret for a nice woman who will treat him right.

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