Sometimes low expectations pay off… at least a little.

The idea of turning a series of Saturday Night Live sketches into a full-length movie is obviously not a new one. It’s been done well (Wayne’s World, The Blues Brothers) and it’s been done really poorly (It’s Pat, The Ladies Man). And there’s been a couple times it’s been pretty good (Wayne’s World 2, A Night at the Roxbury).

You can put MacGruber into that last category.

The first SNL-based film in 10 years, it starts out really well (like many SNL skits actually), but then (like almost *all* SNL skits) it runs out of steam and doesn’t know when or how it should end.

Eight-year SNL vet Will Forte, who also co-wrote the movie, stars as MacGruber– a former (get this!) Navy SEAL, Army Ranger, and Green Beret, who’s earned 16 purple hearts and a couple Congressional Medals of Honor as the country’s best soldier. Thought to have been dead for the past ten years, it turns out MacGruber just retired to a monastery in Ecuador, and when the brass come calling to recruit him for a new mission, MacGruber refuses.

The mission? Bad guy Dieter von Cunth (Val Kilmer) has stolen a nuclear warhead, and he’s intent on using it to blow up The Capitol during the State of the Union address. Finding out that arch-nemesis Cunth is behind the evil plot is all that MacGruber needs. He reconsiders and joins the fight.

Joining MacGruber on his mission to foil Cunth is Vicki St. Elmo (Kristin Wiig) and Lt. Piper (Ryan Phillippe). Together, the three of them make a formidable team. Wiig reprises her loopy role from the skits and Phillippe plays a no-nonsense soldier, and they both play really well off MacGruber’s cluelessness.

The unabashed crudeness (you’ll never eat celery again) comes as a bit of a surprise at first, but it also provides some of MacGruber‘s funniest moments. Overall the movie is more hilarious than stupid. I wasn’t expecting much, but there were actually quite a few laugh-out-loud moments.

Director Jorma Taccone throws in a handful of brilliant nods to 80s movies– from Rambo to Top Gun, and there’s even a blink-and-you-miss-it shout out to Kilmer’s classic Real Genius. There aren’t nearly as many MacGyver allusions as you’d think (or want), but the 80s-laden soundtrack almost makes up for it.

Where MacGruber starts to drop off is about halfway through. The same jokes (MacGruber’s oblivious! He takes everything too literally! There’s that celery again!) get a little stale after the third or fourth go-round, but overall the movie is pleasantly surprising.

Calling it one of the better SNL movies isn’t saying much, sure, but it really isn’t terrible. I was expecting a lot worse.

3/5 stars