'Micmacs: Band Of Outsiders, By Kurt Loder

Oddballs, Inc.

In the French movie "Micmacs," a peculiar collection of social outcasts with bizarre talents has burrowed into a junkyard scrap-metal heap to create a wondrous cave from which they wage war on two Paris-based barons of the worldwide munitions industry. The latest recruit to this group, the sorrowful Bazil (Dany Boon), bears a special grudge against these death merchants. One of their companies manufactured the land mine that killed his father in the Moroccan desert back in 1979; the other produced the bullet that's still lodged in his head from a drive-by shooting outside the video store where he formerly worked. Bazil lost that job during his hospital stay, then he lost his apartment, and now he's been taken in off the streets by the junkyard family, which is assisting him in his search for payback.

His new allies are a lovably surreal group: an ex-con lock-picker, a onetime human cannonball, a builder of brilliant machines, a contortionist who folds herself up at night to sleep in a refrigerator, a girl who can instantly calculate the size or length of anything and a manic list-maker who speaks exclusively in mad metaphors. They're a marvel to behold, especially as they set up surveillance on the armaments executives (one of whom collects celebrity body parts — Winston Churchill's toenail clippings, the lifeless eyes of the late Benito Mussolini). Soon the little band is driving these sinister men crazy, and we eagerly anticipate its next comical provocation.

The actors are perfectly in tune with the movie's eccentric vision. The director, Jean-Pierre Jeunet, has previously deployed his whimsical sensibility in such pictures as "Amélie," "Delicatessen" and the dreamlike "City of Lost Children." Here, once again, he stages some memorably strange moments. There's a terrifically ridiculous scene with a sausage in a Paris airport; there's a bomb constructed with a ticking clock and a large jar filled with bees; and there's a clever sequence in which the contortionist, Elastic Girl (the delightful Julie Ferrier), infiltrates a building by worming her way into one of its ventilation ducts. (When she takes a shine to Bazil back in the cave, he says, "My mom always told me to avoid twisted girls.") In the end, of course, Bazil and company win their war on the warmakers, and we leave the theater hoping there'll be a sequel — we don't want to let these characters go.

The movie's chief revelation, for American viewers, may be its star. Dany Boon — a former animator, and a writer and director himself — has a distinctive theatrical presence that warms this one-of-a-kind picture and draws it together. Like the great clowns of silent film (there are occasional shadings of Chaplin and Keaton here), he can touch you with the smallest gesture or a mournful glance — he doesn't have to speak. He can, of course — he has a sweet, muted delivery — but he doesn't have to. He's like a mime you don't want to shoot.

Don't miss Kurt Loder's reviews of "Prince of Persia" and "Sex and the City 2," also new in theaters this week.

Check out everything we've got on "Micmacs."

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