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Review: 'Mighty Wind' breezy fun

Routine getting thin, but nobody does it better

By Paul Clinton
CNN Reviewer

A Mighty Wind
Eugene Levy and Catherine O'Hara play long-separated folk duo Mitch & Mickey in "A Mighty Wind."

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(CNN) -- Director/screenwriter Christopher Guest has blown into theaters again with another all-improv-dialogue mockumentary, "A Mighty Wind."

In the past, Guest and his gang of usual suspects have sent up rock bands with the Rob Reiner-directed "This Is Spinal Tap" (1984), community theater with Guest's "Waiting For Guffman" (1997), and national dog competitions with his "Best In Show" (2000). Now they've set their skewered sensibilities on another subculture, the folk music craze, which had its heyday in the 1960s.

The film begins with the death of a legendary folk music producer, Irving Steinbloom. In an effort to celebrate his father's life, his tone-deaf, highly organized son Jonathan (Bob Balaban) decides to hold a memorial concert at New York City's famous Town Hall, which will feature some of the acts Irving discovered.

Among the reunited groups are Mitch & Mickey, played by Eugene Levy (who also co-wrote the script -- or in this case the outline) and Catherine O'Hara. The two were classic troubadours who carried on a love affair both on and off stage -- followed by a very messy, and public, breakup.

Also coming together for the tribute are one-hit wonders the Folksmen, played by Guest, Michael McKean and Harry Shearer (the trio also known as Spinal Tap); and the eternally chipper, always color-coordinated New Main Street Singers (once the Main Street Singers), led by the only surviving original member, Paul Dooley, with new members played by John Michael Higgins, Jane Lynch and Parker Posey. They're the only act of the three still out there working, albeit on half-full cruise ships and at obscure amusement parks.

Comedy management

A Mighty Wind
Harry Shearer, Michael McKean and Christopher Guest -- putting away their Spinal Tap long hair and electric guitars -- play the Folksmen.

The first half of the film features Jonathan desperately trying to gather them all together, as we see flashbacks to their earlier careers. Along the way, we meet many more people familiar to anyone who has seen a movie directed by Guest.

Fred Willard -- sporting short, bright yellow hair -- plays Mike LaFontaine, low-class owner and founder of Hi-Class Management, and personal manager for the New Main Street Singers. As with "Best In Show," his character is once again a self-centered, clueless idiot who forms his own distorted reality.

The always droll Larry Miller and the delightfully funny Jennifer Coolidge play the public relations duo publicizing the event. They know zip about folk music -- and about PR, for that matter -- but that doesn't stop them from waxing poetic about both.

Another Guest alumnus, Ed Begley, also stands out, playing a public television executive who happens to be a Swedish Jew fond of peppering his speech with Yiddish phrases like a Borscht Belt comic.

Blending

A Mighty Wind
The New Main Street Singers, including John Michael Higgins, Jane Lynch and Parker Posey, specialize in sanitized, upbeat "folk" music.

Bright, breezy and whimsical, "A Mighty Wind" will please Guest's fans. He has the formula, first seen in Reiner's "This Is Spinal Tap," down to a T.

Unfortunately, that's the problem. It's a formula, and for many it may be running thin. All his players are the best in the business when it comes to improvisational comedy, but at times it feels like all of their characters from various Guest's films are beginning to blend together.

That said, Levy does stand out with his portrayal of the confused Mitch, and the music and lyrics written by Guest, Levy, Shearer, O'Hara, composer C.J. Vanston, and McKean and his wife, actress Annette O'Toole, fit the film and the era perfectly. My personal favorites are "Potato's in the Paddy Wagon" and "Never Did No Wanderin'."

Guest is an exceptional talent, but I'd love to see him branch out a bit -- maybe use performers he hasn't known for 30 years, and actually write a script.

"A Mighty Wind" opens nationwide on Wednesday, April 16, and is rated PG-13.


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