Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s first feature since 2004’s “A Very Long Engagement” brings with it the bag of tricks that’s come to distinguish this director’s offbeat seriocomic fables. As with the similarly minded Tim Burton and Terry Gilliam’s tall tales, Jeunet’s films have a distinctive aesthetic and sensibility: The syrupy sentimentalism, the wry sight gags, the gentle physical comedy, and the impressively textured, sepia-toned visual palette, all of these make up both the pains and pleasures of a Jeunet joint, and they’re served up in ample portions in his latest effort, the comedy “Micmacs.”
Revenge is the name of the game as Bazil (Dany Boon), sweet and somewhat dopey (a common character trait in this director’s cinema), goes after the weapons manufacturers responsible for his father’s death in a landmine accident long ago, and, now, for his near-fatal wounding from a bullet made at one of their factories. Bazil enlists the help of a quirky and talented band of social outcasts, who go by such names like Slammer (Jean-Pierre Marielle), a cheerfully grizzled prison veteran; Remington (Omar Sy), a towering, garrulous African prone to verbal clichés and “I Spy” histrionics; Buster (Dominique Pinon), a world-famous human cannonball; Calculator (Marie-Julie Baup) and Elastic Girl (Julie Ferrier), both of whose talents are obvious.
By day, the misfits scavenge for junk that they cleverly and resourcefully transform into wonderful, magical knick knacks, and, by night, they share a comfy camaraderie over meals cooked up by their feisty matriarch (Yolande Moreau) in a ramshackle version of what the movie’s press notes aptly call their “Ali Baba’s Cave.” Jeunet and co-writer Guillaume Laurant find entertaining ways to develop the group’s chemistry as Bazil orchestrates elaborate measures to get back at the nasty, rival war profiteers (Andre Dussollier and Nicolas Marié), both drawn as amusingly cutthroat baddies. By shaping his film in the spirit of a convoluted heist flick (think Soderbergh’s “Ocean’s 11”), Jeunet both sustains our interest as “Micmacs” becomes a series of comic traps and stunts, and creates a spunky dynamic among Bazil’s comrades as each brings his or her special skills to bear on the high jinks.
Bazil’s big plan is to play the profiteers against each other as each tries to negotiate an arms deal with African warlords. Eventually, the “Micmacs” gang gums up the deal, and make the profiteers’ lives increasingly paranoid and miserable. The convolutions of the plot are really beside the point as the main attraction here is the Rube Goldberg plot mechanics, held together by Jeunet’s pacing and spirited style, along with a game cast in which every member – while not exactly a fully rounded creation – feels like a nicely delineated cog in “Micmacs’” wheel.
In its smoothest moments, Jeunet’s set pieces have the feel of Tati and, as the well-meaning hero, Boon has a pleasing facility of physical comedy that would be right at home in Monsieur Hulot’s world.
Don’t scrutinize the revenge storyline too closely, though, because it’s all but perfunctory. Bazil’s determination to teach the war mongers a lesson gives impetus to the plot, but, because everything here is played for laughs, Jeunet’s characters are too broad for us to take any of them seriously, including the villains. That’s why the movie’s last-act bit of activist outrage, as characters hold up photographs of war victims for the profiteers to see, feels so disingenuous, if not downright inappropriate. Still, there’s a soul to “Micmacs,” and it lies in the moments in between all the plotting, when its characters get to share their personalities, yearnings, and heartaches, and where Jeunet gets to redeem himself.
Directed by: Jean-Pierre Jeunet
Written by: Jean-Pierre Jeunet, Guillaume Laurant
Cast: Dany Boon, André Dussollier, Omar Sy, Dominique Pinon, Julie Ferrier, Nicolas Marié, Marie-Julie Baup, Michel Crémadès, Yolande Moreau, Jean-Pierre Marielle