There's a little Mel Brooks in the mix as well. Our hero hears the Steineresque score swell up on the soundtrack, but the camera reveals a symphony orchestra behind him -- or is it just a brain-damaged hallucination?
The Capraesque revenge tale deals with Bazil (Dany Boon), who as a child is orphaned when his father is killed by a land mine in the Western Sahara and his grief-stricken mother is taken to the nervous hospital. As a grown man, Bazil is the archetypal video-store clerk until he's shot in the head through a freak accident. The bullet can't be removed without rendering Bazil a vegetable; left there, it could kill him at any moment. Released from the hospital, he learns, as you learned a moment ago, that he'd been laid off. He becomes an almost Chaplinesque figure, pantomiming for coins, until he falls in with an eccentric extended "family" of junkyard scavengers, inventors, contortionists, etc. They join him in his madcap quest for revenge on the arms dealers whose mines and bullets have marred his life. A human cannonball, an African conspiracy, Benito Mussolini's eye and Marilyn Monroe's tooth all figure in, and Bazil must often literally think fast to keep himself from dropping dead on short notice.
With a filmography ranging from Delicatessen to Amelie, Jeunet should have any viewer on whimsy alert. I've been able to tolerate and even enjoy his past work (excepting Amelie, which I haven't seen), but MicMacs is the first Jeunet film I've actually disliked. Its heart is in the right place and it picks the right targets, but the fatal flaw of self-amusement poisons the atmosphere throughout. The film is too cute, too quaint, too self-consciously adorable for its own good. Maybe French viewers and Europeans in general have a greater tolerance for such labored whimsy, but I found it insufferable from an early point. In the film's defense, I think Jeunet is quite consciously employing groaner humor, such as the historically inevitable joke on the phonetic intersection of French poetry and American one-man army films. An arms dealer boasts to his son that he compared himself to Rimbaud in a speech. "Do you know who Rimbaud is?" he asks the boy. "You need to work out more," the child answers.
Whimsy: above, a weightlifting robot; below, Jeunet mascot Dominique Pinon as the record-seeking human cannonball.