Most modern filmgoers may be more familiar with Michael Keaton than Buster Keaton, but modern filmmakers worth their salt are skilled and knowledgeable enough to reach back into the medium's distant past to find true inspiration. Jean-Pierre Jeunet, the endlessly inventive director of Amelie and The City of Lost Children, has approached Micmacs by invoking the spirit of such silent stars as Keaton, Charlie Chaplin and Harold Lloyd to tackle a story line with topical, politicized leanings. The charming if slight end result suggests Michael Moore by way of the Keystone Kops.
Even before the black-and-white opening credits patterned after a 1940s Warner Bros. release (complete with a Max Steiner score), we see how Bazil (Dany Boon), an often hapless soul cut from Chaplin's Little Tramp cloth, finds his life altered by the creations of two weapons-manufacturing outfits: a land mine that kills his dad while Bazil's still a boy and, years later, a stray bullet that lodges in his brain as he's watching Bogie and Bacall in The Big Sleep while working as a video store clerk. The injury leaves him both jobless and homeless, but he's soon taken in by a group of misfits (with such tell-all names as Elastic Girl and Calculator) who specialize in collecting discarded spare parts, interesting gadgets, and other odds and ends. Bazil fits right in, but one day while on the job, he stumbles across the buildings of the organizations responsible for his miseries. He vows to get revenge on the war profiteers who run the conglomerates, a pair of particularly unsavory characters (Andre Dussollier and Nicolas Marie) who have no problem with the fact that their weapons of mass destruction have killed countless innocents across the globe. Employing the services of his newfound friends, he concocts an elaborate scheme that ends up pitting the two merchants of death against each other.
Even though Jeunet leans on his trademark whimsy a bit too heavily this time around, Micmacs is a clever and worthwhile diversion, pitting eccentric underdogs who could only exist in the movies against two memorably heinous villains seemingly lifted wholesale from real life. It's a deft splicing of the fictional with the factual, and Jeunet pulls it off with acrobatic precision.