It should be a match made in comedy heaven — director and writer Christopher Guest, whose fake documentary films explore the sad desperation in American subcultures, turns his attention to the wacky world of sports mascots. But this time, heaven is missed by quite a lot.
"Mascots" relies on the same formula that gave us deadpan looks at life behind the scenes at folk music bands, community theater productions and dog shows but lacks the spark of Guest's previous films. "Mascots" never really gels, with only a few notable skits and characters.
In the film, the lovable weirdos under the microscope are a motley group of sad, delusional losers who arrive at the World Mascot Association Awards in hopes of winning the top prize, the Gold Fluffy.
There's a bickering couple (Zach Woods and Sarah Baker); a nerdish sweetheart of a guy who always sees the glass as half-full (Christopher Moynihan); an Englishman (Tom Bennett) who is carrying on a family tradition; a devoted modern dancer (Parker Posey) who performs as an armadillo; and the bad-boy of mascoting (Chris O'Dowd).
The first half of the film (written by Guest and Jim Piddock) introduces the characters with interviews that reveal their sad yearnings and petty resentments. ("Mascots don't die; they just hang in a closet," says one.) The second half follows their awards-show performances, like an episode of "Glee."
It's hard to pin down exactly what has gone flat here. Many of Guests' usual squad of actors like Posey, Jane Lynch, Bob Balaban, Fred Willard, John Michael Higgins and Ed Begley Jr. are here, but they seem deflated. There's no pep.
Missing are Guest regulars like Michael McKean, Eugene Levy and Catherine O'Hara, and one wonders if they might have enlivened "Mascots." Even Guest himself, who makes an appearance as Corky St. Clair, the deluded director from "Waiting for Guffman," is strangely uninteresting.
In previous films, Guest's actors somehow stammered their way into grace, but here the script is a little too heavy with bodily functions — vomiting, yeast infections, even toilet waste. The filmmaker at one point stoops low to get a laugh at the expense of blind kids, and a potential comedy goldmine by having the mascots mix with Furries is abandoned.
There are some bright spots, notably the excellent Irish actor O'Dowd as the brutish mascot The Fist and Susan Yeagley playing the half-sister of Posey's character beautifully, almost as if she was in another movie. Lynch, as a brittle judge, is perfect, as always. But Guest is not at his best here.
The film tries to get us amped up, but there's a deep hollowness under the funny suit.
"Mascots," a Netflix Original Film, is unrated. Running time: 94 minutes. One star out of four.
Mark Kennedy is at http://twitter.com/KennedyTwits