Christopher Guest has made a career out of droll, talking-head mockumentary films that satirize naive, self-centered hopefuls in one career or another. While the formula has certainly worked for Guest in the past, there is a precipitous threshold over which the deadpan ensemble piece becomes reductive.
Mascots is Best in Show with people in costumes. The ensemble of eccentric sports mascots travel to the annual mascot competition to compete for the Golden Fluffy award. Many of Guest’s go-to players return: Jane Lynch and Ed Begley Jr. as judges, Parker Posey as an aging competitor, Michael Hitchcock and John Michael Higgens as show-runner and potential network sponsor. Their natural comedic timing, particularly as it is necessitated by Guest’s direction, comes through.
But the other actors—Zach Woods, Sarah Baker, Tom Bennett—steal the show. Their handling of deadpan execution is exceptional, even if the script does not always offer a payoff to that deadpan.
This is the most glaring issue with Mascots. The script provides enough awkward snippets of dialogue to maintain a level of comic relief throughout, but for every effective line there are two that simply miss the mark. The film explores areas of mascot-dom that could yield stellar comic set pieces, but instead they seem to fall flat. Discussions exploring “furries” and practicing mascot routines don’t heighten correctly.
What the best Christopher Guest movies do is strand character arcs together to form a tight ensemble comedy. This is done effectively by leaving no characters as weak links. With Mascots, some characters are simply more compelling to follow than others. The unsteady marriage of Woods and Baker, the father’s boy of Bennett, and the bad boy “Giant Fist” of Chris O’Dowd are more intriguing than Posey and Susan Yeagley’s gum-smacking sisters.
Other actors are underutilized. The scene between Fred Willard and Brad Williams is the funniest in the entire film, in spite of leaning on done-to-death stereotype humor, yet their characters are only in a handful of scenes.
The strange interpretive dance techniques that make up the climax of the film certainly make for moments of awkward humor, and one Buster Keaton-esque routine is unironically enjoyable. But overall Guest’s latest is a less cohesive attempt than his best. The scripting inconsistent, the characters all over the board, Mascots does not provide the idiosyncratic satire that one has come to expect from the director.
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—Alex Brannan (@TheAlexBrannan)