Film Review: “Mascots”

Netflix is really pushing hard to finance and distribute original content. So much so, in fact, that it will be adding another billion dollars’ worth of debt to its balance sheets over the next few years, to be spread around to a variety of media projects. In addition to churning out Marvel hero-of-the-week shows and writing blank checks to Adam Sandler, Netflix’s creative team is working with notable writers and directors to try to recapture some of its previous magic.

One such director is Christopher Guest, the creative mind behind a series of mock documentaries that have had a huge influence on the comedic landscape of modern television and films. In “Mascots,” Guest trots out his usual formula, giving us an intimate glimpse into the lives of some moderately absurd characters and their passions.

However, “Mascots” feels, at times, too much like a carbon copy of Guest’s previous and more successful films, specifically “Best in Show.” Instead of obsessive dog breeders, he features odd but lovable men and women with a passion for sport mascotery. Guest doesn’t try to hide the similarities, as he uses many of the same actors playing comparable roles.

What works against Guest is that there ultimately comes a point where creating similar films, no matter how well done, ends up looking like a tired rehash of old glory days. Think of the reason why someone like Sasha Baron Cohen is moving away from his reality-style movies (“Borat” and “Bruno”). The first “Borat” movie was hilarious; would, say, a fifth one be as good? However, if you loved “Spinal Tap” and “Best in Show,” “Mascots” really scratches that itch for quirky, dry comedy.

The film has some genuine bright spots. Parker Posey — one of the most underappreciated actresses of the last 15 years — is her usual, brilliant self. This time she can be seen dancing around in a strange, steampunk-style armadillo costume, complete with glowing red eyes. Fred Willard, another mockumentary veteran, shines as a doddering, senile godfather type.

However, other, better-known stars like Jane Lynch are never given enough screen time to really stand out from the crowd. The great Irish comedian Chris O’Dowd — you may recognize him as the male lead from “Bridesmaids” — normally fits into roles as a sort of reedy, intellectual type. He is miscast in “Mascots” as a one-note, tough-guy hockey bruiser with a taste for cheap booze. But the film falters with serious pacing and rhythm issues, as well as numerous subplots that never really go anywhere. The end of the film feels unresolved and generally unsatisfying, like a clever TV show cancelled before its time. This may be due to the fact that, in the editing process, large parts of different story lines ended up on the cutting room floor, in order to shave the film down to a lean, hour-and-a-half total running time.

“Mascots” has quite a few quirky and genuinely charming moments, but they are too few and far between to lift this film up past mediocrity.

Grade: C+
Director: Christopher Guest
Starring: Jane Lynch, Parker Posey, Fred Willard, Ed Begley Jr., Chris O’Dowd
Release Date: October 13, 2016
Rated: TV-MA

Image Courtesy of Netflix

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