At this point, a new Christopher Guest movie is sort of like what a new AC/DC album was in the ’90s — exactly what you’d expect in the best sense. Sure, “Big Gun” is no “Highway to Hell” (you can’t lose your virginity twice) but it still rocks pretty hard, and it’s valuable simply for reminding you that AC/DC still exists.
Mascots is a lot like that. It’s not This is Spinal Tap and it’s not Best in Show, but it’s still Christopher Guest, and that’s a good thing. Imagine if Best in Show was about a mascot competition instead of a dog show, and that’s exactly what Mascots is, no more, no less. Maybe a tiny part of me wants Christopher Guest to evolve into something more, to expand on the formula to make it even more comedically relevant, but that’s a pretty big f*cking ask, isn’t it? Hey, guy who created an entire genre of beloved comedy film, do you think you could do that again, but better?
A bigger part of me is just happy to see a Christopher Guest movie. Fred Willard playing a gregarious moron is Angus Young tearing through a solo, or a bird of prey swooping out of the sky to snatch a rodent in its talons — beautiful exactly as it is, I don’t really need to be surprised. Artistic innovation is great, but so is watching a person do exactly the thing they were meant to do.
Mascots — which debuts on Netflix today — is about a group of different characters coming together for an annual mascotting competition. It has a lot of what Best in Show had — contentious couples, lovable oddballs from the sticks, travel arrangements, hotel desk drama, Ed Begley Jr. The mockumentary structure remains virtually unchanged, with some new faces cycled in and most of the familiar Guest crew showing up as different characters. Fred Willard plays the manager of Jack the Plumber, mascot for the Beaumont College Plumbers, from Modesto, California. In one scene, he listens, fascinated, to a dwarf who explains how little people can drive cars. “How do you drive a car, do you sit on someone’s lap? Do you have another little person down there operating the pedals?”
I’ve seen probably 10 incarnations of Fred Willard as this same affable, oblivious oaf and I could easily watch 100 more.
Parker Posey is back, obviously, playing gum-chomping Cindi Babineaux, the modern art-dancing armadillo from a Mississippi art college. John Michael Higgins plays Upton French, a representative from the Gluten-Free Channel (not Guest’s best premise) there to survey the proceedings for potential programming ideas. New faces include Zach Woods (Jared from Silicon Valley), playing half of a feuding husband-and-wife mascot team, with Sarah Baker playing the wife. I like Woods, but they’re not exactly Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara. There’s Tom Bennett as Owen Golly Jr., a London butcher who moonlights as a hedgehog soccer mascot — he’s charming and enjoyable, though not exactly belly laugh material. Marty Dew plays the aforementioned plumber, who Mascots probably could’ve used less of.
Best of all is Chris O’Dowd as the hard-drinking, Irish accented bad boy Canadian hockey mascot, “The Fist.” O’Dowd is as good as any Chris Guest movie improviser that came before him and better than most, with a savant-like ability to turn any monologue into a series of string alongs with a big punchline at the end, playing the audience like a paddle ball. O’Dowd, with his hangdog face and arsenal of various hilarious Irish accents, has an aptitude for this kind of comedy that’s unmatched by anyone in the cast with the exception of Guest himself. Guest, by the way, is only in the film for about five minutes, playing Posey’s character’s mentor, and it isn’t nearly enough. It’s unbelievably hard to pull off this kind of character improv, that’s earnest without being dull, and funny without being shticky, but Guest once again makes it look easy, effortlessly squeezing laughs out of every other turn of phrase.
If there’s an unexpected element of Mascots, it’s how good the actual mascot routines are, adding a level of production design mixed with slapstick reminiscent of some of the Spinal Tap performances. Jack the Plumber chases around a little person in a turd costume who climbs out of a toilet, and The Fist’s act might be even better than that. It seems strange to say, but I didn’t expect to enjoy Mascots’ mascotting nearly as much as I did.
There really isn’t that much else to say about Mascots other than that it’s a typical Chris Guest movie, but it does seem particularly well suited to Netflix. Going to the movies is a big time commitment for a lot of people, and Mascots is the kind of movie that you can throw on, watch for 20 minutes or so and then come back to later without missing a beat, and it always puts a smile on your face. And that’s a good thing.
Vince Mancini is a writer, comedian, and podcaster. A graduate of Columbia’s non-fiction MFA program, his work has appeared on FilmDrunk, the UPROXX network, the Portland Mercury, the East Bay Express, and all over his mom’s refrigerator. Fan FilmDrunk on Facebook, find the latest movie reviews here.