Review: ‘Mascots’ Suffers From Mockumentary Fatigue Syndrome


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From left, Don Lake, Ed Begley Jr., Jane Lynch and Michael Hitchcock in “Mascots,” Christopher Guest’s new satire.

Credit
Scott Garfield/Netflix

The clearest indication of artistic fatigue in Christopher Guest’s new mockumentary, “Mascots,” is the reappearance of the irrepressible Corky St. Clair. You may remember Corky, who was introduced in Mr. Guest’s film “Waiting for Guffman” (1997). A hyper-effusive, Broadway-besotted stage director with stereotypical gay mannerisms and delusions of artistic grandeur, he was in charge of a tacky community theater pageant in Blaine, Mo., celebrating the town’s sesquicentennial.

Corky, played by Mr. Guest, was such a hoot that I can see why his creator was reluctant to abandon a character who doesn’t really belong in “Mascots,” but, for nostalgia’s sake, was a granted a token cameo. If Mr. Guest’s brief turn as Corky infuses “Mascots” with a maniacal spark, it must be said that his gushy effeminate stereotype feels out of date and borderline offensive. It also contributes to the movie’s aura of déjà vu.

“Mascots” is essentially a recycled variation on his 2000 masterpiece, “Best in Show.” Amusing as it is, the new film feels like a retrospective survey of this 68-year-old director’s brand of misanthropic satire, which seesaws between contempt and affection for eccentric characters played to deadpan perfection by veterans of his earlier films. “Mascots” focuses on a contest similar to the earlier movie’s dog show. The contestants are amateur sports mascots competing to win the Golden Fluffy.

Even more than “Best in Show,” the new movie aims dead center at a national mania for competitions that threatens to transform everyday human activities into cutthroat show-business battles designed for television, with judges, awards and hoopla. I can foresee a day when household chores like washing dishes, making beds and vacuuming rugs are the focus of tournaments judged by “experts.”

In “Mascots,” the Fluffies have yet to make it to the small screen. But the organizers are thrilled that the competition has drawn interest from the struggling Gluten Free Channel, which is available in two markets.

Contestants from as far away as Israel gather at a hotel in Anaheim, Calif., where they put on costumes and plastic heads and do their mostly galumphing routines. Collectively, they embody the reductio ad absurdum of a concept that everybody is a star.

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Chris O’Dowd in “Mascots.”

Credit
Scott Garfield/Netflix

Although “Mascots” is neither as funny nor as satirically acute as its forerunner, it would be churlish to complain too loudly. And the sharpest verbal jokes in the screenplay by Mr. Guest and the actor and writer Jim Piddock are as inspired as ever. Mr. Guest’s gift for the archly comedic mot juste is undiminished. He and his cast still hold their own in the semi-improvisational, ensemble comedy sweepstakes, although it must be said that the more outlandish manifestations of reality television and YouTube have encroached on Mr. Guest’s territory.

Longtime cohorts like Catherine O’Hara, Eugene Levy and Michael McKean may be absent from “Mascots,” but reliable pros like Jane Lynch, Fred Willard, Jennifer Coolidge, Ed Begley Jr. and Parker Posey are present and as entertaining as ever. Mr. Willard’s turn as a smug, clueless oaf peppering a dwarf with inadvertently offensive questions about his size is priceless.

There are the usual backstage dramas. Cindi Babineaux (Ms. Posey), an eccentric, high-strung Southern belle, is called before the judges and threatened with disqualification because her two-person act used to perform under the politically incorrect name the Leaping Squaws. In a running subplot, Zach Woods and Sarah Baker play married professionals who are unable to disguise their mutual loathing.

High points of the Big Event include a scatological routine by Jack the Plumber (Christopher Moynihan) that includes dancing and a toilet. And Chris O’Dowd plays Tommy, the lecherous Canadian-Irish “bad boy of mascoting,” whose character, the Fist, more or less demolishes the stage and amid the mayhem gleefully raises his middle finger.

The freshest material involves a British mascot, Owen Golly Jr. (Tom Bennett), who labors under the heavy hand of his father (Mr. Piddock), a die-hard traditionalist who refuses to let him expand the routine. Defying his father, Owen Jr. brings out a ladder and executes crowd-pleasing feats of daredevil slapstick acrobatics. This joyful moment of triumph points up the relative lack of passion among the other competitors.

The dog owners in “Best in Show” were bursting with a mixture of pride, vanity and adoration for their beloved canines, which Mr. Guest applauded with a wink and a raised eyebrow and a sense of shared excitement. In the more detached “Mascots,” the fun remains, but the thrill of discovery is gone.

“Mascots” is not rated. Running time: 1 hour 29 minutes.

Correction: October 14, 2016

A picture caption on Thursday with a film review of “Mascots,” using information from Netflix, misidentified the actor at the left. He is Don Lake — not Bob Balaban, another cast member.

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