Tuesday, October 18, 2016

'Mascots' review

Is sports "mascotting" really a thing? Are there people who go to competitions and perform routines in big, sweaty suits? These are likely the questions that will be swirling around in the heads of audience members after watching Mascots, the latest film from Christopher Guest, the director of Waiting for Guffman and Best in Show. Set around the festivities of the 8th annual World Mascot Association Championships, Guest's sixth film follows a group of oddball characters all competing for glory. They're pursuing The Golden Fluffy, the highest possible award of the sport, chosen by a team of judges (Jane Lynch, Ed Begley Jr., and Don Lake). Some of the men and women under the suit at this year's competition include married duo Mike and Cindy Murray (Zach Woods and Sarah Baker), British fan-favorite Owen Golly Jr. (Tom Bennett), bad boy Tommy Zucarello (Chris O'Dowd), the uber-dedicated Cindi Babineaux (Parker Posey), and the socially awkward Phil Mayhew (Christopher Moynihan). As the wacky competition unfolds, some will emerge as heroes and others will crumble in their pursuit of legendary status in the mascot universe.

And yeah, that's the movie. I'm not familiar with much of Guest's work, so I'm not quite as disappointed as others seem to be with this film. But it is a remarkably simple comedy, one that doesn't have much of a story or even any true sense of cohesion. It's a series of bits with mostly likable oddball characters. Some of those bits land, some of them fall flat. It's hit or miss, and there's never a consistently funny sense of comedic rhythm. Even as things pick up towards the end, Guest's film still ends on a relatively flat note. Don't go into this film looking for a satisfying narrative or any real sense of payoff- Mascots offers a series of laughs, and that's about it. The film is often clever, witty, and whip-smart, but it lacks the satirical kick needed to elevate it to another level.

Guest gets a nice assist from a terrific cast, all of whom are fully dedicated to their eccentric characters. It's a mix of relative newcomers and veteran actors, and they all work together well. Tom Bennett is the standout of the cast, bringing a warmth and clever humanity to Owen Golly Jr. Zach Woods and Sarah Baker have tremendous chemistry with one another, and it's always a blast to watch their sparring married couple. Chris O'Dowd has some funny one-liners as "The Fist," while Parker Posey's southern girl is a totally unique and often hilarious creation. Christopher Moynihan rounds out the mascot crew, and he hits the right notes as well. For me, the only weak links came in the form of the adults and judges. Guest tries to do some funny things with Michael Hitchcock's Langston Aubrey, but the jokes are few and far between. Bob Balaban is wasted, and while I could see where they were going with the characters, Jane Lynch, Ed Begley, and Don Lake fall flat as well. On top of all that, John Michael Higgins plays an executive for the Gluten Free channel, and it's a joke that sounds better on paper than in execution.

Mascots builds up a head of steam as it approaches its third act, which is where the actual mascot competition takes place. The finale is by far the funniest part of the film, a blend of ludicrous physical humor and just all-around ridiculousness. Moynihan's plumber has a dance routine with a walking piece of poop that is crudely absurd, a jaw-dropping scene that will leave you in stitches. Same goes for O'Dowd's bawdy, violent routine, which ends with The Fist flipping off the entire audience. The best scene is Bennett's high-wire act of a performance. a dizzying, crowd-pleasing burst of fun and optimism. Guest doesn't execute the mascot competition particularly well, settling for a random series of performances that don't really mesh together. But thanks to the talent of the actors and the insanity of the setpieces, the finale works.

Unfortunately, there isn't a whole lot to recommend with Mascots beyond those climatic scenes. The initial acts have some funny moments forced out of just sheer awkwardness, but Guest is never able to connect with any of the themes or the characters. It just leaves you thinking that the film is overstuffed, spreading itself thin over multiple characters and subplots. Guest has some truly strong creations with Owen, Zook, Babineaux, and Phil Mayhew, but he throws in so many other characters, drowning out the people you actually care about. And in the end, you can't help but feel that the entire film is just kinda pointless. The award ceremony is mostly predictable, and Guest struggles to show that there's a reason for any of this. I get the whole "social outcasts united by a cause" thing, but when your movie just ends, there's no real poignancy or satirical edge that works.

Mascots is good for a quick laugh, but it's almost instantly forgettable, a hit-or-miss comedy that never manages to fully connect. As someone who is mostly unfamiliar with Guest's work, this wasn't the best possible introduction. There's plenty to like with Mascots- especially the performances of Bennett, Posey, O'Dowd, and Moynihan, and even some of the cameos from Fred Willard and Guest himself- but the inherent slightness of the film is tough to overcome. Simply put, any movie that leaves you wondering "Why did I just watch that?" isn't in great shape. There's a few big laughs and some memorable moments, but in the end, Mascots is a goofball comedy that isn't as effective or as ridiculous as it should be.

THE FINAL GRADE:  C+                                            (6.1/10)

Image Credits: Indiewire, IMDB

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