After his gentle, romantic collaborations with Audrey Tatou (Amélie, A Very Long Engagement), Jean-Pierre Jeunet has now set his sights on the hallowed tradition of revenge. It is, to be sure, the most whimsical vengeance you’re likely to see on screen, a novel counter-approach to the usual bloody business. But Micmacs (Micmacs à tire-larigot) is about revenge just the same.
As a child, Bazil (Dany Boon) lost his father to a stray landmine, and as an adult, he is nearly killed by an errant bullet. He awakes from a coma with the bullet still lodged in his brain (to remove it could render him a vegetable, but leaving it in leaves his life expectancy uncertain), his video-store job taken, and his belongings burgled from his flat. After some Chaplinish capering on the streets, Bazil finds his way to a sort of junkyard group home, where a group of eccentrics—including a contortionist, a calculating whiz, and a human cannonball—take him in as one of their own.
With very little prodding, his new friends agree to back Bazil’s quest for revenge against the weapons manufacturers who have contributed to his misery. Their plots—the “Micmacs” of the title—are more like pranks, utilizing “salvaged gear” and various individual talents to, say, steal one CEO’s personal collection of gruesome historical artifacts, or replace another’s car collection with burnt-out junkers.
These sequences show off Jeunet’s ingenuity and invention, and the fantasy of fighting wealthy arms dealers with a junkyard circus version of Mission: Impossible has a loopy charm. Stylistically, Jeunet shares a silly sense of humor with Terry Gilliam, though Jeunet’s focus on Rube Goldberg-like contraptions renders his work more tactile than the sometimes unhinged hallucinations of a Gilliam project. Boon grounds the film in another way, with the touch of a silent comedian in his quiet, dexterous performance. He holds the film’s center in the midst of much movement and invention.
Some of this movement has to do with plot, as Jeunet constructs elaborate story machinations for his heroes (and audience) to navigate. The gang’s missions don’t build on each other; instead, they whirl, click, spring, and move to the next one. Despite Bazil’s vendetta, the movie lacks urgency, and arrives at a climax almost accidentally.
In this process, Micmacs never takes full narrative advantage of Bazil’s ticking mortality; it may be the catalyst for his willingness to let go of his old life and take on the arms dealers, but little is made of it once the traps start springing into place. In its place there is a thinly developed romance with La Môme Caoutchouc (Julie Ferrier), the contortionist, who represents Jeunet’s fondness for gimmicky characters played with lots of mugging. None of the secondary characters, in fact, develop beyond their roles as likable human cogs. As its title suggests, the movie, entertaining and well made as it is, feels more like an anthology of shenanigans than an engaging fable.