Micmacs (R) (105 min.; in French with English subtitles) Quirky to the brink of exhaustion, the latest from Jean-Pierre Jeunet is a live-action Looney Tune complete with Acme contraptions and wily coyotes. Well, not coyotes, exactly, but mongrels of a sort, living hand-to-mouth under Paris in a junkyard cave. One's a contortionist; another is a human cannonball. Nobody's normal because that's what Jeunet does best.
It's a disturbing but functional family perfect to adopt Bazil (Dany Boon), who never got over his father being blown up by a land mine. Now he has a bullet in his brain that a doctor decides to leave there on the flip of a coin. Jobless and homeless, that cave and its gentle freaks look good to Bazil.
From there, Micmacs becomes a supremely odd and at times hilarious caper; The Sting according to Kurt Vonnegut. The marks are two obscenely wealthy owners of the munitions companies that made the mine and bullet that ruined Bazil's life. The con is pitting them against each other for a lucrative arms deal and ownership of Benito Mussolini's eye. The grifters aren't exactly Newman and Redford.
Micmacs springs one cartoonish surprise after another, low-tech traps for pompous rats geared to the peculiar talents of Bazil's new friends. Petit Pierre (Michel Cremades) is a Gallic Rube Goldberg, and much stronger than his name suggests. Elastic Girl (Julie Ferrer) literally bends over backward to do what she can. Buster (Dominique Pinon) acts like someone fired from one too many cannons, but he's game for an encore. The compulsive math whiz (Marie-Julie Baup) is named Calculator, naturally.
Boon handles his role with the clumsy elegance of a silent movie comedian, sweet as Chaplin's tramp and dauntless as Buster Keaton. Bazil doesn't appear capable of toppling two evil corporations, and that's precisely why he can. Watching a little guy beat the bigwigs is always fun. Bazil's revenge is the cliche played through a kazoo.
Jeunet places these characters in surreal circumstances and dances the camera around them with the cockeyed vitality of his previous films, including Amelie. Micmacs shares that film's whimsy but not its cotton candy romanticism. As appealing as Boon and his cohorts are, no one who captures your heart like Audrey Tautou, so Jeunet's imagination is the whole show.
He has plenty, in visual and musical nods to underworld movies, and sprightly set pieces like an airport sting of all concerned parties. We watch characters that we're smarter than, but marvel at their ragtag ingenuity and pure dumb luck. You almost expect Mr. Bean or Jacques Tati to show up. Micmacs — the title is French slang for "shenanigans" — wears you out with its wonders, but that's a nice gripe to have. (Baywalk 20 in St. Petersburg and Centro Ybor 20 in Ybor City). A-
Steve Persall, Times film critic