BERLINE 2002 REVIEW: The Bard Goes Suburbia; Morrissette Debuts with "Scotland, PA"
by Brandon Judell
(indieWIRE/02.08.02) -- Willie meets "Pink Flamingos" in this delirious, no-holds-barred modernization of "Macbeth." Well, not that modern. Would you settle for the 1970s?
The witches ("Fair is foul, and foul is fair. Hover through the fog and filthy air.") are replaced by hippies, two of whom are semi-gay (Andy Dick and Timothy "Speed" Levitch). The third is a fortune-telling siren (Amy Smart) whose voice often goes basso mid-prediction. As for the main showdown here, it's for ownership of a budding fast food empire.
All right, this is no masterpiece. No "Throne of Blood" with Kurosawa's mixture of Noh drama and American western shenanigans. And nothing here comes close to Toshiro Mifune getting arrowed to death through his neck. But "Scotland, PA" beats hands-down Orson Welles' stilted 1948 take on the tragedy, whose only merit is that Kenneth Branagh is nowhere in sight.
Writer/director Billy Morrissette, who's acted for the past 12 years ("Penn and Teller Get Killed," "Party of Five"), in his helming debut takes Macbeth out of the castle and into the lower middle-class world of beer, Yahtzee, and sunning salons with names like "When A Tan Loves a Woman."
His antiheroes are one Joe "Mac" McBeth (James LeGros) and his luscious "hard as nails" spouse Pat (Maura Tierney), who are stuck in low-end jobs at the hamburger joint owned by Norm Duncan (James Rebhorn). Famous for his doughnut chain which he's just sold, millionaire Duncan is thinking of starting a drive-in eatery for carnivores. What a great idea! But if the McBeths can get rid of this tyrannical jerk who clearly doesn't appreciate their obvious talents, they can start their own empire. Let the murders begin.
Campy within limits, Morrissette never allows his cast to get too over-the-top. You can still actually feel Lady Pat's torment as she obsesses over an imaginary spot on her hand, this one caused not by blood but by the splattering of French fry oil. Then again, these McBeths don't consider themselves horrid folk: "We're not bad people. We're underachievers making up for lost time."
Tierney, who's Morrissette's real-life wife, and LeGros are jubilant in their starring roles. Their TV fame (from "ER" and "Ally McBeal," respectively) apparently convinced investors that the duo can carry a picture. And they do. Tierney, after all those roles as a self-effacing mama's girl, glories in a part that lets her portray a calculating, hyper-sexed vixen. LeGros, in very tight jeans, is perfect as her obsessed counterpart.
As for the adorable Donald Duncan (Geoff Dunsworth), Norm's son, you can empathize with his pain as he's forced to play high school football when he'd rather be listening to Janis Ian or crooning the tunes of Godspell with "the boys." His slow coming-out, from high school football player to Liza fanatic, is the most joyous on screen this season.
As for his long-tressed brother Malcolm (Tom Guiry), he'd prefer touring in a rock band and playing "Bad Company" covers at strip joints than flipping burgers. He'll tug at your heartstrings as he deals with his dad constantly screaming, "I'm not going to tell you again: hair net or haircut!"
But it's Christopher Walken as vegetarian Lt. Ernie McDuff and John Cariani as dimwitted Ed the Cop who steal the show. Cariani might just be the thespian to revive the "Ernest" series, and Walken hasn't seemed so unstrained in years. His comic timing is nigh perfect.
In the end, what Morrissette has concocted here is a John Waters-esque romp that never totally loses its serious undertones. It's a perverse mixture of screwball comedy and bad TV detective-drama antics (e.g. "McCloud") and the tackiness of "Love American Style," but with an incisive contemplation of the American dream and the agony it costs not to realize it. He has you laughing at the consequent violence, yet also empathizing with the victims and the perpetrators. Now that's an achievement.