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More jeers than cheers for 'Mascots'

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Latest Guest mockumentary lacking in laughter

Christopher Guest has long been the master of the comedic mockumentary. He has used the form to tackle the worlds of music, stage and screenand dog shows. His work with films like 'Waiting for Guffman' and 'Best in Show' and of course 'This is Spinal Tap,' the granddaddy of them all, has firmly ensconced him as a shining star of the comedy firmament.

It has been a full decade since Guest's last film 2006's uneven 'For Your Consideration' made the rounds. His return to the fray is the Netflix offering 'Mascots'; a return to the fray, yes but unfortunately not a return to form.

'Mascots' features Guest's standard sprawling cast of outsiders and outliers all making their way toward some sort of climactic collective event; in this case, it's a competition for sports team mascots (the trophies are called 'Fluffies,' if you're curious).

Along the way, we meet some of the people devoted to the mascot subculture. There's the struggling married couple Mike (Zach Woods, TV's 'Silicon Valley') and Mindy (Sarah Baker, 'Rock the Kasbah'), whose mascot work together contributes to relationship friction and there's Phil (Christopher Moynihan, TV's 'Man Up'), a college football mascot whose devotion to the craft borders on obsessive. There's Cindy Babineaux (Parker Posey, 'The Architect'), a young lady whose Alvin the Armadillo pushes the boundaries of what it means to be a mascot, and Owen (Tom Bennett, 'Love & Friendship'), a third-generation English soccer mascot looking to do right by the family vocation. Oh, and lest we forget, there's Zook (Chris O'Dowd, 'Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children'), a bad boy of a hockey mascot known as 'The Fist.'

The competition is organized by Langston Aubrey (Michael Hitchcock, 'Addicted to Fresno') and sponsored by carpet cleaning magnate/mascot enthusiast Buddy Campbell (Don Lake, 'Zootopia'); Buddy also serves as a judge of the competition alongside mascotting legends Gabby Monkhouse (Jane Lynch, TV's 'Angel from Hell') and A.J. Blumquist (Ed Begley Jr., 'Ghostbusters').

As part of a wholly unnecessary subplot, the mascot championship is being considered for a slot on the Gluten-Free Channel; executive Upton French (John Michael Higgins, 'Sundown') is here to see if it will work as content for the network.

Throughout, 'Mascots' basically sticks to the template laid out by previous Guest films, following each of the individual characters as they make their way toward the competition that will they hope validate the choices that they have made along the way.

It breaks my heart to say this, but Christopher Guest might have lost his fastball. 'Mascots' feels played; for the first time, it's distractingly easy to see the seams in Guest's once-rock-solid structure. While these films are generally noted for their improvisatory scenes, there's a lack of spark here that results in less-than-stellar material. Scenes meander a bit and jokes struggle to land. The plot has never been the most important part of Guest's films; characters are the focus. Unfortunately, these characters aren't well-drawn or engaging enough to carry the day.

There are some highlights the mascot competition itself has moments, although even that feels like a stab at recapturing a 'Best in Show'-type energy but overall, 'Mascots' doesn't have nearly the richness in terms of comedy and character that its predecessors have.

As with all of Guest's oeuvre, it's very much an ensemble film. There aren't a lot of standout performances here, to be frank. Moynihan has some good stuff and Bennett is actually quite engaging; O'Dowd manages to make a one-note character work surprisingly well. The rest arefine? I guess? The overall sloppiness makes it hard to tell, particularly with Guest's regular guests folks like Bob Balaban, Jennifer Coolidge and Fred Willard all make appearances (as does Guest himself, in a sad and unfortunate return to the role of Corky St. Clair from 'Waiting for Guffman.'), but it just doesn't seem to be clicking for everyone.

Christopher Guest has made a number of movies that I love. Unfortunately, 'Mascots' is strictly minor Guest, a movie that only completists will consider must-see. The performances, the writing, the direction, the overall energy none of it really clicks. It's a disappointing misfire from a comedic great.

[1.5 out of 5]

Last modified on Tuesday, 31 January 2017 19:33

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