While Conan O’Brien got all the late-night attention Monday for his “Tonight Show” debut, Jimmy Fallon followed by breaking some minor entertainment news: guest Will Forte confirmed that a movie based on the SNL “MacGruber” skit is in the works.
The natural impulse – after groaning – is to start making bomb jokes. The filmed sketches are basically a one-note gag: Forte races against the clock to defuse a ticking explosive with a patchwork gizmo made of ordinary items, ala MacGyver, the 1980s adventure show the sketch spoofs. Only in the SNL version, Forte and his mullet wig get blown up, week after week.
The material seems barely enough for the minute or two recurring bit – and the Pepsi commercial it inspired – forget about a full-length feature. A "MacGruber" movie also sounds like another case of the no-new-ideas syndrome at a time when SNL alum Will Ferrell’s remake of TV’s “Land of the Lost” is about to hit theaters, and a flick based on Bazooka Joe gum-wrapper comics is in development.
But “MacGruber,” to co-star Forte’s SNL sketch buddy Kristen Wiig, “may be a little different than what people are thinking,” the comedian told Fallon, not divulging much more beyond saying a script has been completed.
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Before making too hasty a pre-judgment on a “MacGruber” movie, remember that some SNL skits successfully made the transition to the big screen. Here’s a look at some of the hits and misses:
• “The Blues Brothers” (1980): The first and the probably the best of the SNL-spinoff flicks didn’t start as a sketch as much as Dan Akroyd and John Belushi’s energetic ode to R&B. The movie showcased music greats like Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles and Cab Calloway, and featured one hell of a car chase, along with some hilarious scenes. Maybe they really were on a mission from God.
• “Wayne’s World” (1992): Few thought the sketch about a couple of teenager rock freaks with a basement-based cable TV public access show would hold anyone’s attention longer than five minutes. But bewigged Mike Myers and Dana Carvey turned their world into a hit. The “Bohemian Rhapsody” car-bopping scene alone was worth the price of admission. The sequel wasn’t bad, either. Party on…
• “Coneheads” (1993): Akroyd and Jane Curtin reprised their roles as the pinheaded aliens bent on mass consumption for this middling comedy with a pro-immigration message. It didn’t help that the movie came more than a dozen years after the last Coneheads sketch.
• “It’s Pat” (1994): Julia Sweeney’s androgynous character could barely carry the opening credits. An all-out bomb.
• “Stuart Saves His Family” (1995): This one didn’t do much better than “It’s Pat,” but proved an ambitious effort. Al Franken played his Stuart Smalley character (“I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it, people like me!”) and wrote a serio-comic screenplay that tried to squeeze laughs out of addiction, 12-step programs and general dysfunction. Not the kind of uplifting piece you’d want from your senator-in-waiting.
• “A Night at the Roxbury” (1998): Ferrell and Chris Kattan portrayed the rhythm-challenged club-going brothers. This is the role Ferrell may be trying hardest to forget.
• “Superstar” (1999): Molly Shannon’s screen turn as Mary Katherine Gallagher, a socially awkward, physically clumsy Catholic girl with delusions of show biz grandeur, had some amusing moments. But it didn’t do much for Shannon’s – or Mary Katherine Gallagher’s – career.
• “The Ladies Man” (2000): Tim Meadows’ movie featuring his smooth-talking, Courvoisier-sipping, lothario deejay character Leon Phelps falls into the underrated and guilty pleasure categories. There are some funny moments as Phelps is being chased by cuckolded husbands. The out-of-nowhere “West Side Story” parody is a highlight.
The sketches that worked as movies offered a semblance of a story, made the audience care at least a little about the characters and were consistently funny – no easy task.
The odds may be against a “MacGruber” success, but time will tell if Forte can finally defuse a potential bomb. The clock is ticking…
Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992