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Revenge of the Junkyard Dogs: Micmacs

Dany Boon, Omar Sy, and Marie-Julie Baup in "Micmacs"

In French it’s called l’embarras du richesses—an embarrassment of riches in English—and it’s a phrase very aptly applied to a new film from France, Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s Micmacs. A wildly comic caper movie that really does a fair amount of capering, Micmacs is invested by its writer-director with a frolicking inventiveness. Scene by scene, it’s more flamboyantly and gleefully inventive than any two films from this or any recent year, and I include James Cameron’s vaunted Avatar among the contestants.

In a sense, Micmacs—in French argot, something like trickery—is the summer’s unblockbuster. It’s intricately constructed and the pacing is usually rapid. Often, its scenes race through their tricky business and into the next quick setup. But the movie never becomes large-scale. It’s scaled small despite its romping, complex shenanigans. But Micmacs’ almost relentless inventiveness can become a little tiring; it’s hard to keep up sometimes. And Jeunet (Amelie, Delicatessen) hasn’t resisted pushing his movie’s wry sweetness into an at least mildly smug cuteness on occasion.

The character at the center of all the busyness is the single-named Bazil (Dany Boon), who’s introduced as a Gallic everyman schnook. A deftly assembled whizbang prologue establishes him as effectively orphaned when his soldier-father is killed by a land mine in North African and his mother succumbs emotionally to grief. Years later he’s shot in the head by a stray bullet from a shootout near the video store where he’s a night clerk. Bazil leaves the hospital still carrying the slug because the casually philosophical physician decides his patient is as likely to die as to live if he removes it. (He flips a coin.) Bazil finds his job taken and he’s reduced to cadging money as an awkward street performer before he’s taken in by an ad hoc family of oddballs residing in a sort of cavernous domicile beneath mountains of trash in a junkyard. This crew, presided over by one Tambouille (Yolande Moreau), a gruffly maternal woman, salvages and recycles reusable stuff. Among their number are a guy who’s writing a personal chronicle composed chiefly of bromidic sayings; one who escaped the guillotine when it malfunctioned; and a contortionist (Julie Ferrier) who develops a yen for Bazil. And here he begins to form his reprisal plan after he’s forcefully rebuffed at the arms company when he goes there to complain to its chief executive. (He has the shell casing with the firm’s name.) And very conveniently, the armaments manufacturer of that mine is located across the street.

Micmacs has a vaguely traceable lineage to the silent screen antics and choreography of Chaplin and Keaton, to the often amused, gently anti-bourgeois humanism of Jean Renoir, and to Jacques Tati’s elaborate but elegantly austere visual humor, although Jeunet’s rambunctious spirit and his flamboyant aesthetic are miles from Tati’s almost severe alienation from the mechanized middle-class society he’s quietly spoofing.

Everyone know that excessive cleverness can be annoying, but Jeunet seems to have periodically lost himself in his cinematic enthusiasms, like a lot of other preoccupied directors entranced by the medium’s possibilities. Micmacs is sometimes doggedly whimsical. Even the occasional note of poignance is carelessly whimsical. (Tambouille wound up at the trash business after her two children disappeared somewhere on the Parisian streets.)

What saves the movie being even more confusing and more off-putting is its good-natured wit, its jokey irreverence, and the performances. Boon’s sly, deft work, his malleable, hangdog expressiveness is very engaging. Andrew Dussolier and Nicolas Marié are almost campily effective as the two rival capitalist lords of destruction whom Bazil and his friends take on.

What’s even sillier than anything in the movie is its R rating. Save for some cursory erotic vulgarity, there’s nothing that should bar a reasonably enlightened kid of 12 to 16 from admission, particularly in view of what’s all-too-available on cable TV and adolescents’ computers. It might just take a youngster competent at multi-tasking to keep up with Micmacs’ rush of business.

Watch the trailer for Micmacs

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