The sneaky manner in which Netflix rolls out its original feature films was a bit of a blessing for the cult fans of Christopher Guest, who had to endure only a month or so of anticipation before the release of Mascots. Devotees of Guest's oddball ensemble mockumentaries, featuring mostly improvised dialogue, have been jonesing for a film from the auteur since the mostly forgettable For Your Consideration in 2006.
This time around, Guest is exploring the world of sports mascots by taking us to the World Mascot Association, where folks in costumes from around the globe are competing for the prized Gold Fluffy award. Guest brings back some of his favorite stars, including Parker Posey, Jennifer Coolidge, Bob Balaban, Jane Lynch and Ed Begley Jr., among others, most of them in some sort of obnoxious mascot costume. The laughs come quick as we're introduced to these outcasts as they prepare to head to the championships, then we follow them through the increasingly absurd competition. It's the newcomers to the Guest troupe who make the biggest impact, including Zach Woods (The Office) and Sarah Baker (The Campaign) as a struggling married couple who also have a mascot routine. Susan Yeagley, as Posey's clueless sister, delivers some hilarious quips.
This Netflix delivery probably satiated some fans, but likely left others feeling like Guest's formula of using a gaggle of ridiculous characters to dig into an odd subculture — small-town theater in Waiting for Guffman, dog shows in Best in Show and folk music in A Mighty Wind — may have run its course. At times, it feels like some of the scenes essentially were just adapted from previous films in the franchise. The mockumentary is tough to get right, but Guest — who first dabbled in the medium as Nigel Tufnel in This Is Spinal Tap — has made a career out of doing it better than anyone. Here, though, the conceit feels like it got stale in the decade that Guest and his cast took time off. And it was downright confusing when Guest appears late in the film as a character from one of his previous movies — I won't spoil it.
Expectations are obviously high for anything Guest is going to do, and maybe that's why Mascots seems to be lacking. No, you're probably not going to get the belly laughs delivered by Guffman. But it's still funnier than most of what you're going to see this year. ♦