Here’s the odd thing about Micmacs, the latest from The City Of Lost Children writer-director Jean-Pierre Jeunet: It centers on a group of ragtag misfits trying to take down a pair of rich, entrenched, heavily armed weapons manufacturers, yet there’s virtually no sense that the bad guys are a threat, or that they might win. Like Jeunet’s Amélie, Micmacs (the slangy French title has been translated variously as Dodgy Dealings, Confusions And Manipulations, or just Shenanigans) is an arty, jumpy story full of contrivance and calculation, and it’s more about playfulness than drama. The villains are symbols and paper tigers. Not that there’s anything wrong with that—at its best, Micmacs is a robust, enjoyably lunatic game. It’s social commentary by way of a good Looney Tune.
Protagonist Dany Boon has an intimate connection to two weapons firms: One made the land mine that killed his father, and the other made the bullet that lodged in his head in a freak accident, costing him his job, his home, and a highly variable portion of his sanity. So in a development that feels like Jeff Bridges meeting Robin Williams in The Fisher King, times seven, he hooks up with a band of wacky dump-scavengers with highly specialized, odd abilities. Together, they set about undermining the arms-dealers via gimcrack inventions and complicated plans that bring all those odd abilities to bear like clockwork. Their antics incorporate a good deal of classic heist-movie moves and silent-movie slapstick.
But mostly, there’s a good deal of Jeunet. He’s cited a wide variety of influences on Micmacs, his first film since 2004’s A Very Long Engagement: Once Upon A Time In The West, Toy Story, Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs, Mission: Impossible—essentially any film about highly specialized, idiosyncratic talents coming together to challenge a more powerful, organized, or sophisticated foe. But the final result, with its barrage of oddball characters and breathless voiceover, its herky-jerky pacing and devotion to twee cuteness, its ultra-detailed settings and bright popping colors, are all straight from the Jeunet of Amélie. Longtime Jeunet fans may be a little disappointed at the film’s feather-lightness, which admits almost none of the grimness of his Delicatessen or Lost Children, and longtime Jeunet non-fans needn’t bother at all. But on its own, without comparison to his past work, Micmacs is an enjoyably weightless farce, a slapdash, stylish Rube Goldberg device made out of people instead of mechanical parts.