Sony // 2010 // 104 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // December 9th, 2010
The adventure of a lifetime.
"We can help!"
When Bazil (Dany Boon, Joyeux Noel) was a child, his father was killed by a land mine. Now Bazil is a grown man working at a video rental store. His existence is a peaceful one; he sits around watching films and quoting his favorites word-for-word. One night, a gunfight outside the store ends with a bullet in Bazil's brain. Miraculously, this doesn't kill him despite the fact that doctors are unable to remove the bullet. When Bazil awakes from his coma, his job isn't waiting for him. Our protagonist is despondent until he's taken in by a group of eccentric misfits living together in a laboratory underneath a large junk pile.
Bazil's new friends include the friendly contortionist La Môme Caoutchouc (Julie Ferrier, Mr. Bean's Holiday), the frantic Congolese ethonographer Remington (Omar Sy), the ex-convict Placard (Jean-Pierre Marielle, The Da Vinci Code), the mild-mannered physics whiz Calculette (Marie-Julie Baup), the quiet Petit Pierre (Michael Crémadès, The Truth About Charlie), the blustery Tambouille (Yolande Moreau, Amelie), and the self-proclaimed "human cannonball" Fracasse (Dominique Pinon, Alien: Resurrection).
Bazil is determined to exact revenge upon Nicolas Thibault de Fenouillet (André Dussolier, A Very Long Engagement) and François Marconi (Nicolas Marié, 99 Francs), the weapons manufacturers who respectively made the land mine that killed Bazil's father and the bullet inside Bazil's head. Upon discovering this mission, Bazil's new pals eagerly offer their assistance. Together, this oddball team puts together an elaborate plan to teach two corporate bad guys a lesson.
Regardless of how you may feel about the films of Jean-Pierre Jeunet (I've heard his Amelie called everything from "wretchedly intolerable" to "the warmest film ever made"), never let it be said that the man makes boring movies. Micmacs is likely to be as polarizing as anything else the director has produced, providing endless invention and whimsy delivered in that distinctly offbeat manner. I certainly enjoy Jeunet's brand of off-kilter energy, and there are plenty of delightful sequences to be found in Micmacs. However, this time around the director attempts to fuse his free-wheeling eccentricity to a form of heavy-handed social commentary, which doesn't work quite so well.
The film's message certainly isn't misguided: corrupt arms dealers who will make any compromise for a buck are bad guys, sure. However, the heroes and villains of this story are living cartoons; which renders the political commentary about as weighty as the scenes in which Bugs Bunny humiliates Elmer Fudd. That would be just fine if we weren't given the distinct sense that there are certain moments Jeunet wants us to take seriously. Between all the mayhem and comedy are awkwardly Important Messages that have all the subtlety of a jackhammer. If Andrew Niccol's Lord of War were shaken up and turned into a live-action slapstick comedy, Micmacs might very well be the result.
Irksome as the film's occasional self-importance is, there are entirely too many fun moments here to call Micmacs a failure. Jeunet presents his characters as a band of jubilant anachronisms marching into the 21st Century from the silent film era; combating modern warfare and cutthroat business practices with whimsical prankishness. The director underscores this idea by occasionally offering robust re-recordings of vintage Max Steiner compositions; giving certain portions of the movie a classic Hollywood feel (appropriately enough, an early scene finds Bazil quoting the French dubbed version of The Big Sleep). In a smile-inducing visual gag borrowed from Mel Brooks, we see a large orchestra playing fervently in the background as a melancholy moment is underscored by impassioned music.
Much of the comedy found in Micmacs would not have been out of place in a Chaplin film, as Jeunet frequently relies on superbly-orchestrated slapstick quite frequently. It's immensely entertaining stuff, particularly an explosive sequence that occurs inside one of the weapons manufacturing plants. The characters are fun enough, but it's Jeunet's direction that generates the most laughs. Bazil and his co-horts tend to be a little thin; defined more by their distinctive faces and oddball abilities than by anything more substantial (even Bazil's need for revenge seems a bit underdeveloped). Though the villains are still rather silly figures (one is fond of collecting leftover body parts of celebrities -- Marilyn Monroe's finger, Winston Churchill's fingernails, etc.), they come the closest to resembling real human beings.
Micmacs is a film that relies a great deal on its elaborate visuals, so I'm pleased to report that the film looks sparkling in hi-def. Though the orange/brown haze draped over the visuals sometimes evokes a '70s flick more than vintage Hollywood, the level of detail is nothing short of superb. Blacks are deep and inky while shadow delineation is equally strong. Background detail is crystal-clear, permitting the viewer to soak in every visual delight Jeunet has to offer. The audio is quite robust, with an emphasis on Raphael Beau's quirky score and the more traditional Steiner passages. Dialogue is clear if a little subdued (not a problem for those reading English subtitles) while a few high-energy moments give your speaker system an impressive workout. Supplements include an audio commentary with Jeunet, a Q&A with Jeunet and Ferrier plus two featurettes: "The Making of Micmacs" and "Animations: Absurd Deaths." This is an upgrade from the European Blu-ray release, which offered only an interview with Jeunet.
The fundamental triviality of Micmacs does little to detract from its sense of joy. It's worth a look.
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Scales of Justice
* 2.40:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (French)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 104 Minutes
Release Year: 2010
MPAA Rating: Rated R