Eclectic soundtrack to farcical SNL spin-off falls flat

Well, it was pretty easy to see it coming. A movie as silly, as ridiculous, as ironic as MacGruber wasn’t exactly going to produce a soundtrack that Ennio Morricone would approve of.  Without beating around the bush, the soundtrack is at once miserable and ridiculous, much like the movie itself.  The real question is, then, is it ridiculous or humorous enough to be worth your money?

Power ballad · Kristen Wiig, who plays Vicki St. Elmo in the recently released MacGruber, contributed three songs to the film’s soundtrack. - Photo courtesy of Rogue Pictures

The soundtrack is a bizarre amalgam of ’80s hits and original songs that sound like they could have been just such ’80s hits, coupled with selected audio clips from the movie itself.

The album starts off with “MacGruber’s Theme,” composed by an artist who goes by the moniker Cornbread Compton, which is quite fitting considering the nonsensical nature of the movie itself.  Compton, along with a little support from the Silver Lake Chorus, conjures up a bit of parody through song reminiscent of the musical stylings of 2004’s inane Team America: World Police.  “MacGruber,” the chorus sings, backed by epic orchestration and swooping strings, “that guy’s a f-cking genius!”

Whereas in the movie, in which such an auspicious start sets the tone for the comedic absurdity to come, the soundtrack lacks the context of the movie itself (even with the selection of skits included), creating more than a little difficulty in striking a balance between intentional stupidity and just plain stupidity.  It’s hard because there are two contrasting sides of the album: the purposefully asinine selections — including “MacGruber’s Theme,” some original compositions by characters from the movie and all the skits — are at odds with the serious pieces in the soundtrack, such as the classic Eddie Money hit “Take Me Home Tonight” and the absolutely electrified “Heavy Soul” by the Black Keys.

Most of the collected songs are dusty hits from the ’80s, which provides an element of chuckle-inducing irony within the movie as MacGruber drives his Mazda Miata around, his beloved Blaupunkt car stereo pumping out sentimental power ballads and mildly effete pop hits from decades ago.

When these retro songs have to stand alone on a soundtrack, however, they lose the comedy that the movie crafted, leaving the listener with a whole bunch of not-too-bad, not-too-good songs from the ’80s. Considering the combination of two contemporary songs — the aforementioned “Heavy Soul” and “Tick Tick Boom” by garage-punk band the Hives — with the gaggle of skits and parody pieces, the MacGruber soundtrack just ends up suffering from a little bit of multiple personality disorder.

If you like pop songs from the ’80s, it’s a decent mix — Robbie Dupree’s “Steal Away,” for example, still shines as an indulgent piece of boppy keyboard pop, dripping with Casio-like synths — but it’s not a mix that seriously warrants a purchase. You would be better off buying an ’80s compilation instead.

If you liked the movie itself, the soundtrack simply isn’t as funny, despite featuring skits taken directly from the film; this is, of course, assuming that you found the movie funny in the first place, which might be hit or miss depending on your maturity level.

Vicki St. Elmo, portrayed by Saturday Night Live veteran Kristen Wiig, provides two original songs that appear to have been meant as amusing parodies of ’80s pop clichés but instead are neither amusing nor in the least bit good.

In any case, it’s probably only going to take one listen to the skit “Spill It” for the soundtrack to be relegated to the glove compartment or to the annals of one’s iPod, never to be heard again — honestly, who wants to hear MacGruber’s Neanderthal-like mid-coital grunting while cruising down Figueroa Street?

It’s when all the elements of the soundtrack come together that the bewilderment sets in.  Obviously, the soundtrack was made pretty much by default to accompany the film’s release, as movie soundtracks have an audience basically built in.  The MacGruber soundtrack, however, is a bewildering selection primarily because it is borderline impossible to figure out who this soundtrack caters to.  In some ways it is an indicator of the many negatives of a postmodern entertainment culture in which very few things are ever new or substantial but rather recycled and repackaged in the hopes of attaining superficial gratification.

Of course no one can or should seriously compare the MacGruber soundtrack to the great works of Morricone or Mancini, among others, but modern movies based on parody and pastiche have the ability to create damn fine soundtracks — see Shaun of the Dead. Clearly, MacGruber missed the boat on this one.

In essence, this soundtrack is for all those who loved the movie, those who will find the movie’s dialogue to be the pinnacle of humor time and time again, those who have a fondness for synthesizer-heavy tunes from the 1980s.

Not one of these people? You probably won’t regret passing this one by.