To paraphrase a line from an ’80s action franchise that wasn’t his, Bruce Willis has not gotten too old for this shtick.
The last and only other time he hosted “Saturday Night Live,” it was 1989, and he dropped in on “Wayne’s World” but was left out of “Sprockets.” As he returned to Studio 8H this weekend — five more “Die Hard” movies, a “Friends” Emmy and a Demi Moore divorce later — Willis was more than willing to act the buffoon.
In a Lonely Island-style music video about dudes turning off the NFL game to have a secret dance party, Willis gyrated gamely alongside the young cast. And in his wackiest getup of the night, he wore a shaggy wig and filled the front half of a centaur costume, fretting about the well-being of the guy in the back.
It would be a fun display of a big movie star surrendering his dignity, if Willis had any dignity left to lose. But in recent years he’s made a habit of making a fool of himself, both intentionally (in cornball routines on David Letterman’s show) and not (opposite Tracy Morgan in “Cop Out”), so this venture was more a case of “SNL” marshaling Willis’ ready abandon.
While last week’s Miley Cyrus episode was about the host’s currently flaring controversies, this one looked further back, paying the occasional homage to Willis’ greatest hits. A scene about Navy SEALs readying for battle riffed on his history of outlandish screen valor, having him refuse to confirm his humdrum orders to stay in the van and instead spin elaborate predictions of his upcoming heroism involving smirks, a knife in his boot and a cry of “Don’t you dare die on me!!!!”
When he played a guy dating the mom of Eddie — the Taran Killam character who relentlessly mocks someone for a slip of the tongue — the son bared his craving for a father figure by wailing, “You look like you would take care of me if I was trapped in a Japanese-named office building!”
And when he put on the familiar orange space suit from “Armageddon,” that too was in service of a recurring character: Bobby Moynihan’s Kirby, distracted from the mission at hand by his outspoken love of his kittycat.
Three episodes into the season, this was the weakest yet, the inspiration lacking and the fatigue already evident. A cold open about the government shutdown threatening the “Gravity” astronauts found nowhere to go, and the Willis monologue that followed couldn’t offer anything wittier than Moynihan’s bad harmonica playing. (Was I the only one hoping the host would break out his old Seagram’s Golden Wine Cooler jingle?)
But at least Willis never was made to wear a plushy frog or tiger costume, like Katy Perry’s band. And not once did he utter “yippie-ki-yay.”
– Perhaps suspecting her “Hannah Montana”-era Miley Cyrus impersonation has been done in by the singer’s reinvention, Vanessa Bayer rolled out a Lady Gaga spoof that merely echoed Gaga’s weirdness without commenting on it. Willis showed up there, too, serviceably aping Michael Kors from “Project Runway.”
– What was with Kenan Thompson’s overtly phony scissor-miming in the barbershop sketch? After 11 seasons, is he resorting to sabotage to keep things interesting?
– New featured players Kyle Mooney and New Trier grad Beck Bennett seem to have a niche in the last half hour for short films like they did in their sketch group Good Neighbor. Last week Mooney was panicking about getting it on with Cyrus; this time both were frat brothers teaching juvenile Beer Pong rules. They’re pleasant little islands of weirdness.
– Next week they rerun the Tina Fey season premiere, three weeks after it aired and one week after it was rerun in prime time. Then it’s Edward Norton hosting a new show Oct. 26.