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IN SHORT: Totally whack (or, to use the vernacular, McOK). [Rated R for language, some nudity, drug content and brief violence. 105 minutes]
Whack, depending on your generation, means: out there, funny, very funny, ridiculously funny, unbelievably (as in sick) funny and sometimes just plain strange. It is also the sound made by a cleaver as it hacks off your hand.
Scotland, PA is yet another resettlement of a Shakespeare classic (Macbeth), this time to the nowhere's-ville setting of the title sometime around 1972. Rather than following the normal routine of strictly translating economic and class structures from the original setting (Princes and Kings in Denmark), writer/director Billy Morrissette has gone a full 180 in the other direction and turned the bulk of the play into a venal, viciously funny comedy. We didn't think it possible, but he did and he did it well.
Joe "Mac" McBeth (James LeGros) and his wife Pat (Maura Tierney) labor endlessly in a rundown burger joint owned by Norm Duncan (James Rebhorn). Duncan's is a greasy spoon where "the fowl is fowl and the fare is fair," according to three hippies (Andy Dick, Amy Smart, Timothy "Speed" Levitch) who will guide McBeth on his murderous path to riches with the help of a Magic Eight Ball. In McBeth's way is Doug McKenna (Josh Pais), who manages the joint and fills his pockets with profits skimmed out of the register. When "Mac" is tipped to the rip-off by friend and coworker Tony Banconi (Kevin Corrigan), the married would be marauders get the skimmer fired, the better to take control of the operation.
Nope. Duncan's got two sons, a would be rocker named Malcolm (Tom Guiry) and the closeted Donald (Geoff Dunsworth) -- this film is anything but politically correct and that goes double for the mouth on Maura Tierney. If four letter words offend, stay thee away from the theater. Duncan wants his eldest to manage and inherit the joint. Mac is named "assistant," which pisses off Lady Mac. Plan B is hatched: Kill Duncan, making it look like a robbery, and buy the store from the kidlets who could care less. Renamed McBeth's a featuring the first drive thru window ever seen in the town, the place is a runaway success.
All this scheming is set to a soundtrack consisting of almost every hit Bad Company and the Marshall Tucker Band ever had. Totally whack and totally funny, with Duncan murdered in such a twisted and unintentional way that we'll never look at fast food the same way again.
What we've described is nothing compared to what happens when police detective Ernie McDuff (Christopher Walken) is imported to aid the local police force. Considering that the principal member of said force (John Cariani) is an idiot, it doesn't take much to help out. Walken's dry, stone faced humor is so appropriate for a cop that his performance alone justifies paying the ticket price.
The only problem is that, as with all of the Bard's classics, things get real bloody at the end. How this comedy shifts to a story rife with rampant insanity and paranoia is the sole bump in the road. If you are familiar with the original you'll be able to follow most of it. If you're not -- it has always been the position of this site that you shouldn't have to know the Source Material -- things get rocky. Thankfully the truly gory stuff is kept off screen or is suggested and not shown.
Truth is, we didn't expect a lot out of this film but we were very surprised at how much we liked it. Despite the low budget look, Scotland PA is a lot more fun than the average indieflick and much cleverer than some high budgeted major-studio trash we can think of.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Nine Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Scotland, PA, he would have paid . . .
If you're of the opinion that your own sense of humor is definitely off-kilter, hunt this one down on the indie circuit.
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