Boy, if filmmaker Jean-Pierre Jeunet could bottle and sell his whimsy and quirk, the world would be a far zanier place. I'm just not sure it'd be any better. Like Michel Gondry or Terry Gilliam, the French stylist fills his movies with inventive set pieces, concocting frantic and elaborate visual gags. And, like Gondry and Gilliam, his plots and characters often struggle to assert themselves amid the onslaught of gimmickry and imagination. When the stars align, you get such masterpieces as Amelie, Brazil and The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. When they don't you get Micmacs.
In French, the full title is Micmacs a Tire-Larigot, which roughly translates into "nonstop shenanigans." It's an apt description, since Jeunet has created an exhausting fantasia of cartoonish jokes, characters and gadgets. Every three minutes the filmmaker hits you with another ingenious, theatrically intricate action sequence. It's like watching a talented kid who doesn't know when to stop showing off.
The plot, for what it's worth, centers around an oddball video store clerk named Bazil (Danny Boon), who takes a stray gunshot to the head. Left homeless, jobless and in constant threat of dying from the lodged bullet, he's adopted by an assortment of sweet-natured freaks and geeks who live in a junkyard. One day, while gathering scrap, Bazil notices that the company that manufactured the bullet in his brainpan is across the street from the company that made the landmine that killed his dad many years ago. With his newfound friends, he organizes a zany terrorist cell whose mission is to make the rival weapons manufacturers go to war against each other.
With its theme of the powerless striking back at the powerful, Micmacs could have cold-cocked France's notorious military-industrial complex (they are a world leader in landmine creation). Had Jeunet harnessed his formidable creativity and cleverness in service of a plot like The Sting or Lord of War, the cinematic impact could have been significant. Unfortunately, the French director displays little to no interest in creating genuine characters. Micmacs is populated with caricatures of the broadest kind, ensuring our inability to emotionally connect with any of them. Similarly, its story is almost completely devoid of drama or suspense. Jeunet is simply too in love with his whirligig contraptions and repurposed silent film-era gags to bother with story or substance.
Ultimately, Micmacs is less the satire it pretends and more a people-fueled Rube Goldberg device. Still, there's no denying Jeunet's talents. The pace never flags, the camerawork is graceful, the sets are fantastical, and the compositions are nothing short of masterful. Each eccentric caper is delivered with delirious panache, and the hit-to-miss ratio of its slapstick bits will be enough to delight some audiences.
Open Friday, July 16, at the Landmark Main Art Theatre, 118 N. Main St., Royal Oak; 248-263-2111.
Jeff Meyers writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].