I’m a sucker for flicks about scams and con jobs. So on a recent Saturday night, I was inspired after channel-surfing during a morning hangover daze and stumbling upon Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. Self, I declared, it’s time for a mini-marathon. Several hours later, I had re-digested The Sting, The Thomas Crown Affair and The Spanish Prisoner. Hangover mostly gone, I decided that the night called for a burrito. But not a normal burrito. A monster burrito. Chicken and steak, jalapenos, habaneros, onions, rice, beans, sour cream, guac, pico de gallo and I think, maybe, a tequila worm — seriously, this thing was the size of a small dog. And because it apparently was not gluttonous enough, I topped it off with a three-alarm chili-con-queso. Because why risk not getting a heart attack when you can clog your arteries and all-but-assure it? After conquering this great beast, I took to my couch and promptly fell asleep while watching Ocean’s Eleven.
You know how they say food can sometimes give you some crazy dreams? That leviathan of a wrapped meat beast mixed up with all the con-job flicks floating through my skull gave me one hell of a mind-bending dream. There was a contortionist, a dude with a bullet lodged in his brain, another dude who was a (record-setting) human cannonball, two international arms dealers who lived across the street from each other, a robotic mouse, a human calculator/sextant and Marilyn Monroe’s molar. And that curious dream was called Micmacs à tire-larigot
Director Jean-Pierre Jeunet has explained that the meaning of “micmacs” is something akin to “shenanigans.” And this film offered the best kind of shenanigans, in the form of multiple mini-capers. As a young boy, Bazil (Dany Boon) loses his father to a landmine. As an adult, Bazil is struck in the head by a bullet. These lead to a chain of events where Bazil winds up being taken in by a familial group of curious vagabonds who wind up helping him in his plot to sabotage the heads of the two weapons companies responsible for those two acts of violence. If it sounds heavy, it’s not - Micmacs has the visual style of Jeunet’s earlier films without any of the darkness. If it sounds ridiculous, it is, but in an entirely good way. Written by Jeunet with Guillaume Laurant, the film is a cartoonish farce, loaded with over-the-top scams and silly self-referential movie references (including what I have to believe was an intentional shout-out to Eddie Murphy’s exchange student from Cameroon in Trading Places). Bazil and company’s shenanigans are each intricately planned yet relatively simply plots designed to force the two arms dealers to square off against each other, and while it’s fun watching the execution of those plans, the movie is just as enjoyable to watch when it’s just the gang sitting around the table having dinner.
In lesser hands, the execution could come across as just plain silly. But the cast of unknowns (unless you’re a fan of French flicks or know the wonderful Dominique Pinon from Jeunet’s previous films) manage to portray these odd and quirky characters wrapped up in their shenanigans without coming off as absurd. Boon was particularly good as Bazil, especially in the early scenes, where he’s essentially tasked with pulling off a silent film. Naturally, the film is visually stunning, firmly planted in that dream-like reality that Jeunet does so well, and saturated with yellows and golds that help to emphasize the underlying brightness of the film. Micmacs is not a particularly emotionally resonant film, but it’s not intended to be. Rather, it’s meant to be a light and upbeat affair, with the heart of Amelie and the soul of a kid’s cartoon. And Jeunet hits the mark squarely. If I sound effusive about the film, it’s because I not only dug the movie, but I truly enjoyed the experience of watching it. It’s hard to describe, but it was almost like being a kid again, watching the hijinx and shenanigans of Mssrs. Tom and Jerry. Only with much better animation.