"Shenanigans" is a good English translation of this French title. If it's shenanigans you want, then shenanigans you shall have, because Micmacs is the latest from Jean-Pierre Jeunet, who created The City of Lost Children and Amélie. Remember Amélie? Cute girl? Short hair? Big eyes?
This time the crusading hero is Bazil, played by comedian Dany Boon. Tall guy. Big ears. Sad eyes. His life has been ruined by one of those fateful coincidences in which the filmmaker believes, between a bullet and a landmine. He stumbles onto the bullet company, and its next-door rival: the landmine company! Before you can say "Red Harvest," he meets seven junkyard misfits, each with a specialty. I missed the romantic ardor of Amélie, until our man attracts the affections of the gang's resident contortionist. Of course a heist movie has an acrobat, but this is the first time the cliché becomes a character, in the flexible form of Julie Ferrier. She's blond and moony and insecure, Juliet of the Spirits as trained by Cirque du Soleil. I think I'm in love.
Though clearly the work of a guy who makes funny commercials for a living, the film rarely feels like a string of funny commercials. An arms dealer's fireplace activates when he claps his hands: an opportunity for gags, but also a sign of lonely luxury. Some of the spoken jokes have suffered in the translation. Yet every scene brims with character-driven slapstick, and subtitles hardly matter, unlike in Quentin Tarantino's recent lecture-movie, which took fairy-tale revenge on Hitler. I was much more offended—and delighted—by the punishment Jeunet concocts for today's merchants of death. It involves Islam, hair-dryers, and the Internet.
May I indulge in some froggy anti-Americanism? Yes? Hollywood twists itself into a soft pretzel to let us enjoy our guns and ammo without remembering what they do to people. Hollywood gives us George Clooney barely playing a con man, or Robert Downey barely playing an arms dealer, then expects us to share the movie star's smirk at how little he cares.
Jeunet churns those caper stories into a buttery mishmash, an excuse for endless invention, with every actor displaying the charming mania of a 5-year-old. Are these Frenchies trying too hard, with all their mugging and miming? I'll take "trying too hard" any day over the coma of cool. I'm the same way about food and jazz. Give it to me hot. R.
opens Friday at Fox Tower.