With its instantly recognizable Paris, Micmacs could only be a film by Jean-Pierre Jeunet. The director of A Very Long Engagement and Amélie has created a Paris that may not actually exist anywhere but in our minds.
The denizens of this city aren’t quite normal, and neither is the lens through which we view them. It’s as if we see them through a magnifying glass bent like a funhouse mirror, so their peculiarities are a bit more odd, their styles a little more garish. Jeunet clearly pines for a more bohemian Paris, the romanticized model that tourists want to see. And perhaps that’s why, even though Micmacs never fully adds up, we don’t completely mind the journey.
Like Amélie, Micmacs begins with a once-upon-a-time introduction. The film opens with a botched disarming of a landmine in some far-off desert, then bleeds into the tale of how a video-store clerk named Bazil (Dany Boon) came to have a bullet lodged centimeters from his brain for the rest of his life; in the process, Jeunet successfully makes a comic case against weapons-manufacturing and arms-dealing. Bazil is moments from either a vegetable state or death, but doctors decide — after already making the incision across the side of his head to extract the bullet — to leave it right where it is.
So now, with a bullet in his head and no job — the video store replaced him — Bazil wants revenge. In typical Jeunet fashion, that moment of clarity crescendos with an actual crescendo: When Bazil lucks into a plan for bringing the weapons manufacturer to its knees, an orchestra is playing behind him.
That, obviously, is easier said than done, so Bazil finds help in the form of a ragtag bunch of super-friends. None of them have particularly welcome attributes (except the contortionist). There’s a human cannonball, a blind tinkerer who makes robots out of scrap metal, a wordsmith ... you get the picture. This is hardly The Magnificent Seven.
Micmacs turns out to be little more than a heist movie, and all heist capers are more convoluted than they need to be. (If not, they’d all be 45 minutes long.) That’s why there are escape artists and men with talents for explosives and very pretty distractions; it wouldn’t be much fun to watch six guys walk into a bank with guns pointed and then walk out with the money.
Jeunet, however, is living in his own little fantasy world — his Paris that never really existed — so Micmacs adds further layers to the con job.
It’s amusing, by and large, if not very involving. The execution of the scam works like a Rube Goldberg device: at times, you wonder how parts of it even work individually, much less together.
Ultimately Micmacs devolves into a Keystone Kops-style farce for a protracted amount of time, and the film becomes less about this picturesque Paris or even the oddball characters populating it, and more about how Jeunet is a good puppet-master. There’s a difference between watching a great film that bears the mark of an artist, and watching a film in which the director’s presence overshadows everything.
Jeunet’s Amélie is a great film that almost comes together too seamlessly, and even though it clearly has a distinct style, the trickery isn’t what we notice, because everything involved serves the story so well.
In Micmacs, however, Jeunet extends a slighter story to 105 minutes. Too many elements draw out the story instead of springing to life from it.
This is a terrific movie to look at, but it’s not as much fun to watch.