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I’ll just go ahead and say it. The once clever and very funny mock-documentary from the creative team behind classics such as This is Spinal Tap and Waiting For Guffman have been a series of diminishing returns ever since. That’s not to say they aren’t good entertainment and devoid of laughs. It’s simply a case of familiarity. With Mascots, the latest from a very talented crew of improv stars who have long worked together in these films, it is less laugh-out-loud funny and more just amusing, and honestly, a little creaky.
For those who don’t know the name Christopher Guest, he is easily one of the least celebrated comedy geniuses of the last 30 years. The aforementioned This is Spinal Tap is a landmark comedy that still has influence in pop culture decades later (“these goes to eleven”), and by 1996, when he released the hysterical Waiting For Guffman, he had perfected the genre he created with astonishing skill. Since then, like Will Ferrell roasting every sport he could get a script for, Guest has been busy producing a succession of similar-themed films, each poking fun at a generally-misunderstood sub-genre of pop-culture. From dog shows to folk music to low-budget Hollywood schlock, he and his troupe have made some truly funny films, though each less so than the previous, primarily because the set-up is the same with the actors taking different roles. With Mascots, a culture that is absolutely ripe for ribbing, the gang gathers once again (with a few new faces) and gives it a go once more.
Much like Best in Show, here we begin with an introduction of sorts to a few select mascots and the people who bring them to life, all gearing up for the big show that’s trying to national TV airtime (their sponsor is the Glutten-Free Channel, a company servicing two cities). We meet such characters as “The Plumber”, “Alvin the Armidillo” and “The Fist” among many, and each are naturally awkward and socially inept though believing themselves far more important than they actually are (The high school football team The Plumber mascots for doesn’t even know who he is). What matters most to these people though is the up-coming Fluffies, a highly-competitive show that could potentially get them a gig in the big time, mascotting for a pro team.
The story, much like all of these films, is purposefully tenuous, an excuse mostly to put these oddball characters in uncomfortable situations, a trademark of most Guest films. That’s not a criticism but a narrative observation. Some find there mark, thanks mostly to some inspired performances. That includes funny moments from Zach Woods and Sarah Baker as an unhappily married couple whose mascot act is slowly unraveling, and Tom Bennett and Jim Piddock, a father and son family of mascots from England that don’t agree on the direction the act should go. There’s also some great work from veterans Jane Lynch and Ed Begley Jr. who act as retired mascots judging the event who have had very different paths of success (he was once the first anatomically correct donkey mascot, and yes, it’s exactly what you expect).
Others don’t come off as well though with the usually very good Parker Posey giving a decidedly forced performance though it is Chris O’Dowd as The Fist that proves the weakest, his character a one-note joke that is a thirty-second gag stretched too far. And then there is Guest himself, who has regularly been a main character in these films, this time sticking to a cameo as his popular Corkey St. Clair. He barely has any screen time and only serves as a reminder of a superior film.
That all said, Mascots is a solid little movie and like the others, pokes fun but not disrespect. Best In Show, Waiting for Guffman and A Mighty Wind never made their topics targets, always making the participates honorable and even talented players, despite the humor farmed from them. So it is with Mascots, where the decidedly strange mascots are all quite good at what they do, even if we stare in bewilderment at why.
Director: Christopher Guest
Writers: Christopher Guest, Jim Piddock
Stars: Zach Woods, Wayne Wilderson, Sarah Baker, Michael Hitchcock, Tom Bennett, Parker Posey, Chris O'Dowd