Published Oct 13, 2016This review was originally published during TIFF
After losing himself in the role of This Is Spinal Tap's Nigel Tufnel, Christopher Guest had a directorial three-peat that proved his merit as a comedy auteur. Waiting for Guffman, Best in Show and A Mighty Wind are all nothing short of comedy masterpieces, though Guest's resume would be far better off if he had stopped there.
Instead, Guest's once-stellar reputation has eroded into mediocrity. His 2006 Oscar comedy For Your Consideration was half-decent, but its follow-up HBO series Family Tree was overly dry, with a pace more suited for Antiques Roadshow than any sort of improvised comedy. Which brings us to Mascots, Guest's Netflix debut and, by all appearances, an attempt to reclaim his former glory.
The pining for the past is evident throughout the film, from its wacky, event-based premise (here, a ragtag group of Midwestern weirdoes converge for a mascot competition) to its characters. And while Parker Posey and Fred Willard revisit familiar characterizations from previous efforts, Guest fully brings back a character, resurrecting Guffman's Corky St. Clair for a humourless bit part in the film (His biggest joke is saying the word "boner" after meeting an attractive woman). It's a cloying attempt to revisit his glory days.
That said, the actors are hardly the problem. Chris O'Dowd gets the most laughs (though still not many) as Tommy "Zook" Zucarello, a roughhousing hockey mascot from Manitoba known as the Fist. Guest newcomers Zach Woods and Sarah Baker try their damnedest to bring some awkward energy as a married pair of mascots who hate one another, but there's still a Eugene Levy and Catherine O'Hara-shaped hole at the centre of the film's cast.
It doesn't help that Mascots' plot is practically non-existent. Instead, Guest has developed another mirthful sandbox where the humour should, theoretically, come easy, but he misses the mark in all kinds of ways. The jokes here are either too subtle or too ridiculous (the existence of "the Gluten-Free Network" on television is one of many horribly topical and painfully unfunny gags throughout the film), meaning you'll have a small, nearly inaudible chuckle every 15 minutes or so, between cringing or resisting the urge to look at your phone.
Guest's glory days were followed by a movement of mediocre mockumentaries that followed his style but couldn't match it; with Mascots, a film on par with Balls of Fury, his own work is indistinguishable from the imitators. (Netflix)