Mascoting, or the art of mascottery as Chris O’Dowd’s Zook prefers to call it, is all about motivating the crowd in order to inspire the team. Normal men and women don heavy, goofy suits to dance, perform and cheer on their team, all to be forgotten about once they leave the pitch. It’s the perfect subject matter for director Christopher Guest, who has made a career out of examining maligned subcultures. Yet, Guest’s latest does very little to motivate much laughter.
Mascots centres on the eighth World Mascot Association’s Championship with twenty-five of the “best” mascots from all over the world competing to win the Golden Fluffy. Cue the likes of O’Dowd’s brilliant ‘The Fist’, a violent ice hockey mascot who would rather start fights with the crowd than motivate them, mascotting couple, Zach Woods and Sarah Baker’s Mike and Mindy Murray, and Parker Posey’s Cindi, a contemporary dancer who is adamant to bring mascotting into the twenty first century. They are a lovable, cheerful bunch whose love of mascotting is never ridiculed but instead their hobby is lovingly documented.
However, despite how lovable these characters may be, you never fully invest in their plight. Christopher Moynihan’s Phil, aka Paul the Plumber, is an estate agent who gets the film’s funniest gag but not much else, whilst Chris O’Dowd puts in a standout performance as The Fist, yet sadly, Guest never gives his best mascot much to do and the film is the weaker for it. Instead, Mascots spends more time with mascotting couple Mike and Mindy, whose abusive relationship jars with the film’s upbeat tone, and Woods and Baker’s inexperience working with Guest becomes apparent when their jokes fail to land, going on that little bit too long.There is the Brit hopeful Owen Golly. Jr, aka Sid the hedgehog, who threatens to steal the show every time his cheerful grin lights up the screen thanks to Tom Bennett, whose sheer likeability brings a lot of heart to his mascot. Watching him get “police tourettes” when he gets pulled over for driving on the wrong side of the road in full mascot costume is a stand out scene. You have some Guest mainstays make an appearance with the likes of Ed Begley Jr and Fred Willard showing their faces, while John Michael Higgins attempts to reenact his Pitch Perfect performance as a politically incorrect network producer but offers up none of the brilliance. And that’s Guest’s biggest misstep. He has all these brilliant characters fighting for screen time and he gives the least interesting the most time to shine.
It all feels like Guest is running on autopilot, not offering up anything new but instead dressing up Best in Show in a funny costume and hoping for the same outcome. It doesn’t work, resulting in a film that feels lazily thought out with minimal effort when it comes to the execution. Guest’s failure becomes unavoidably apparent in Mascot’s third act which sees him take a backseat as the competition unfolds. A Hasidic Jew dancing with a worm and a plumber chasing a poo is funny at first but then once you realise the film has nothing left to give you it’s painfully disappointing. Sadly, even The Fist isn’t funny.
One reason directors favour improvisation is it’s ability to create a sense of realism but with Mascots it feels like everyone involved, O’Dowd and Bennett not included, are trying too hard to be funny. If Guest had put the effort in to streamline the improv element then he might have created a funnier examination of this fringe society. But instead, Mascots is a film that has its moments – a human sized bagel playing cards is hilarious – yet everything between these infrequent moments of brilliance fails to come together in a cohesive manner.