On one hand, Micmacs is exactly the kind of breezy, witty fantasy you'd expect from the director of Amelie. At the same time, however, it's quirk and whimsy, signifying nothing; Micmacs is the ultimate exercise in self-reflexiveness. There is no reason for this movie to have been conceived other than that Jean-Pierre Jeunet was available to make it, and there is no reason Jean-Pierre Jeunet should have made it other than it being tailored to his exact sensibilities. Make no mistake, there's plenty of charm and fun to be had if you have no expectations of the film's substance, but those hungering for any sort of dramatic heft to weigh down this hot air balloon of a movie even in the slightest will find their hopes swallowed up by the movie's sugary insistence on flights of fancy.
Dany Boon plays Bazil, an aimless young man content to eat Babybels and sit in the low-rent video store where he works, imagining himself as Humphrey Bogart. Life has other plans for him, though, and a stray bullet from a chance gunfight lodges itself in his brain, rendering him jobless and emotionally conflicted. Out of necessity, he shacks up with a whole band of outcasts at the local dump (including an alluring contortionist played by Julie Ferrier, and Jeunet staple Dominique Pinon, among others), and the group as a whole set about exacting a bit of revenge on the two weapon-manufacturing war profiteers (André Dussollier and Nicolas Marié) who helped put Bazil in his current predicament.
One major element comprises all the relevant differences between Amelie and Micmacs, and that's Audrey Tatou, who used her truly bottomless reservoir of charm to get the audience to invest as much in her personal, somewhat goal-less mission to bring joy to the world. Boon makes for a charismatic goofball, but he's too passive for the audience to rally behind even as the characters do. It's definitely funny to watch this band of mischief makers execute some of their sillier, more elaborate plan-slash-pranks on the hapless CEOs, but so what? If the viewer is not as motivated to see the villains crash and burn as the characters, the tension is non-existent.
Then again, it may not be Boon alone that's the problem here: the character of Bazil has no motivation. Accidental shooting and some childhood silliness aside, you never get the feeling that the character feels much about these incidents, even if the former puts a wrench in his ability to control his rage. Sure, he's angry, but the emotion is weirdly detached from the characters, as if it's just a cloud floating around Boon's head. One might argue that a serious vendetta against villainy that exists as much in the real world as it does in the film would turn the movie into a preachy parable about military politics and ruin the movie's lighthearted tone, but there's no reason these serious figures have to mean serious business. Soderbergh's Ocean's series, for example, was as adept at juggling genuine grudges with jokes as Micmacs feels like a hollow lark.
By the time the movie arrives at a flat, corny finale, in which the world at large somehow gives a flying rat's ass about the bad men in question and whether or not they get their just desserts, the movie's spell of charisma is already wearing off. Amelie was like a ray of sunshine targeted directly at the audience's cynicism, allowing them to believe in kindness, magic, and love. Regardless of whether the movie is funny or not, it says all you need to know that at the pivotal moment of Micmacs, the first reaction that comes to mind is to snort and scoff, "Oh, yeah, right."
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