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With: Christopher Guest, Michael McKean, Harry Shearer, Catherine O'Hara, Eugene Levy, Bob Balaban, Jane Lynch, Parker Posey, Larry Miller, Fred Willard
Written by: Christopher Guest, Eugene Levy
Directed by: Christopher Guest
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sex-related humor
Running Time: 91
Date: 03/12/2003

A Mighty Wind (2003)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Folk Jokes

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Even after 20 years, the "mockumentary" is still a hilarious, simple and effective way to direct a comedy. This Is Spinal Tap (1984) is still the gold standard of the genre.

Written by Christopher Guest, Michael McKean and Harry Shearer and directed by Rob Reiner, This Is Spinal Tap succeeds by following the rules of a real documentary. Unlike some of the cheap clones like Bob Roberts and Drop Dead Gorgeous, nothing happens in Spinal Tap that couldn't have been realistically captured by a documentary crew.

Taking over as director, Guest continued the genre with Waiting for Guffman and Best in Show. Both films are funny, but Waiting for Guffman eventually grows tiresome, while Best in Show receives a much-needed shot in the arm from Fred Willard -- in a brilliant performance as a dog show announcer -- just before the third act begins to sag.

Sadly, A Mighty Wind, Guest's fourth mockumentary -- and his third as director -- lacks any such shot in the arm.

Guest and his stock company play three different folk music acts who reunite for a big concert, paying tribute to a recently deceased promoter.

Guest and his two Spinal Tap cohorts make up The Folksmen; Eugene Levy and Catherine O'Hara are former husband-and-wife team Mitch and Mickey, and another group called the New Main Street Singers is a more popular and less traditional band that the old-timers look down on. Their members include John Michael Higgins, Jane Lynch and Parker Posey.

All these actors appeared in one or both of the previous films. Fred Willard is also back, but this time as a half-wit former TV star loaded with cornball jokes. (His catchphrase is "Wha' hoppened!") Willard makes a few of these nuggets work, but his whole routine is pretty tired.

As expected, the bulk of the laughs come from the movie's first half, many of which are vapor-thin and difficult to remember when the movie ends.

The second half -- the big concert -- is made up of four paltry songs, one each from each of the three groups, and a fourth combo number, the title song. And by that time we've already heard them at least once, and so the jokes contained therein fall flat. Still, you should give the movie a few extra points if you like folk music; the movie has some pretty decent original songs.

Even so, it really bugged me that the entire movie builds to such a short, chintzy and unfunny concert. Why couldn't the entire movie have been the concert, with flashbacks inserted throughout? That way time wouldn't have been such a factor; it would have felt like a real concert.

Surprisingly, though, Guest manages to squeeze a few moments of genuine poignancy out of the Levy and O'Hara sequences. It should be noted that Levy, who co-wrote the screenplay with Guest, turns in an outstanding performance as the shell-shocked Mitch, who barely looks like he can dress himself but still knows how to touch the heart.

It's nice to know that actual comedians are still at work in this modern world of reality shows and idiot humor. Regardless of the final result, we have to regard A Mighty Wind more with affection than with disappointment.

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