Paris, With a Bullet

Jean-Pierre Jeunet's odd revenge-caper film is gorgeous, but overloaded with unnecessary elements

Micmacs could only be a film by Jean-Pierre Jeunet, with its instantly recognizable Paris. The director of A Very Long Engagement and, more importantly for these purposes, Amélie, Jeunet creates a Paris that may not actually exist anywhere but our minds. His whimsical city of lights, however, is the perfect backdrop for his films.

The denizens of this Paris are not quite normal. It's as if we view them through a magnifying glass bent like a funhouse mirror, so their peculiarities are a little more peculiar, and their styles a little less stylish, a bit louder and more garish. Jeunet clearly pines for a more bohemian Paris, the romanticized model tourists want to see. And perhaps that's why, even though Micmacs never fully adds up, we don't completely mind the journey.

Like Amélie, Micmacs begins with a once-upon-a-time introduction. The film opens with a botched disarming of a land mine in some far-off desert, and bleeds into the tale of how a video-store clerk named Bazil (Dany Boon) came to have a bullet lodged centimeters from his brain for the rest of his life; in the process, Jeunet successfully makes a comic case against weapons-manufacturing and arms-dealing. The clerk is moments from death, but doctors decide—after already making the incision across the side of his head to extract the bullet—to leave it right where it is, because surgery might make the patient a vegetable.

So now, with a bullet in his head and no job after the video store was forced to replace him, Bazil wants revenge. In typical Jean-Pierre Jeunet fashion, that moment of clarity crescendos with an actual crescendo: An orchestra is seated behind him when Bazil happens upon the headquarters of the company that manufactured the bullet in his skull, a bullet never intended for him in the first place. He decides to bring the weapons-manufacturer to its knees.

That, obviously, is easier said than done, so Bazil finds help in the form of a ragtag underground Superfriends. None of them have particularly welcome attributes, save the contortionist; however, for this man with lead in his head who wants to destroy a multinational merchant of war, they're perfect. There's a human cannonball, a blind tinkerer who makes robots out of scrap metal, a wordsmith ... you get the picture. This is hardly The Magnificent Seven. If it helps complete the picture, though, think of these specialists as the type of wannabe grifters that Danny Ocean and his well-tailored gang would have made fun of in con-man school.

This is, after all, little more than a heist movie, with the ultimate goal being the comeuppance of not one, but two weapons manufacturers, who we learn are tied together through sneaky deals that benefit nobody on the planet outside of the two CEOs. The best way to take them down, it's decided, is to take them down together.

To a degree, all heist capers are a little more convoluted than they have to be. If not, the films would only be about 45 minutes long. That's why there are escape artists and men with talents for explosives and very pretty distractions; it simply wouldn't be much fun to watch five or six guys walk into a bank with pointed guns and walk out with the money. Jeunet, however, is living in his own little fantasy world—his Paris that never really existed—so Micmacs adds layer upon layer to the con job.

It's amusing, by and large, if not very involving. The execution of the scam works like a Rube Goldberg device: It's far more complex than the task at hand, and at times, you wonder how parts of it even work individually, much less together. For example, within 15 minutes of deciding he wants to cripple the war profiteer, Bazil is just feet away from the evil, snorting CEO (André Dussollier, seen several years ago in the taut French thriller Tell No One). But merely confronting him in his office or at home is not the dish best served cold that Bazil has in mind.

Instead, Micmacs devolves into a Keystone Kops-style farce for a protracted amount of time, and the film becomes less about this picturesque Paris or even the oddball characters populating it, and more about how Jean-Pierre Jeunet can be an effective puppet-master. There's a difference between watching a great film that bears the mark of an artist, and watching a director make a film where his godlike presence is not only unmistakable, but also overshadows the events that unfold. Jeunet's Amélie is a great film that almost comes together too seamlessly, and even though it clearly has a distinct style, it is not the trickery we notice, because everything involved serves the story so well.

There's less of a story in Micmacs—again, there could be a resolution within 30 minutes if Jeunet wanted to act upon it—but he forces himself to make a 105-minute film and load it down with far too many elements that exist simply to extend the story, rather than spring to life from it.

This is a terrific movie to look at, but it's not nearly as much fun to watch.


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