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maryann johanson, ruining movies since 1997

question of the day: Why don’t films from ‘Saturday Night Live’ work?

As of this writing, MacGruber — you know, the new film based on the recurring one-joke Saturday Night Live sketch — is at an astonishing 100 percent Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes. And not even thanks to “reviews” by “critics” you’ve never heard of at nonexistent small-town newspapers who’ll say anything about any movie if it means they get their name on a poster. No, it’s a handful of reactions from respectable writers from respectable outlets who saw the movie at SXSW.

But of course, Freshness is relative. CinemaBlend’s Josh Tyler starts his review with:

MacGruber is not, even for a second, half as clever as the SNL sketches it’s based upon.

and still it warrants a Fresh. Perhaps because the movie did not elicit seizures, vomiting, and then deep coma: hey, it’s not that bad!
I’ll be delighted if MacGruber is actually funny, but I’m not holding out hope. The trailer makes me cringe — I stopped finding poop funny in kindergarten (and no movie since Caddyshack has been able to deploy a poop joke that actually worked on a grownup level). My press screening of the film doesn’t begin until 7:30pm on Thursday, which means that by the time I get home and can start thinking about writing a review, public midnight shows will already be starting.

But mostly, I’m not hopeful because sketches from Saturday Night Live almost never work on film. It’s been ten years since the last one — 2000’s The Ladies Man, which Tim Meadows hopes you’ve forgotten all about — and no one seems to have learned the lesson of the long string of flops in the 1990s for films based on SNL sketches. (It’s Pat? Stuart Saves His Family? Why?) Only Wayne’s World worked, and it seems obvious to me why it worked when the others didn’t: Both the movie and the sketches it was developed from were about compelling, fully rounded characters, not one-note caricatures. (The Blues Brothers worked, too, but it’s a whole different creature: the boys didn’t appear in sketches on the show, just in musical numbers. It’s also notable that the SNL folks of the 1980s didn’t even attempt to replicate the success of that movie.)

MacGruber is not a compelling, fully rounded character. But surely the nice people at Saturday Night Live can see that, too, and can see from the tattered history of the SNL movie that the concept of sketch-to-film is a recipe for disaster.

So what are they seeing that I’m not? Why even bother with a MacGruber movie? Or, conversely: Why don’t films from Saturday Night Live work?

(If you have a suggestion for a QOTD, feel free to email me. Responses to this QOTD sent by email will be ignored; please post your responses here.)



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