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film: Noteworthy Fun

Christopher Guest's "A Mighty Wind" may not blow you away, but it will have you giggling helplessly.


So it's important not to oversell the latest Guest & Co. offering. "A Mighty Wind" is terrifically funny in a quiet way, inspiring gleeful giggles rather than guffaws.

However, like Guest's other mockumentaries, "A Mighty Wind" actually gets funnier with each viewing. Many Richmonders well remember this truism first hand, when Guest's "Waiting For Guffman" became quite the "sleeper" hit in town, nearly knocking the city's "longest playing movie" crown off "The Sound of Music." Oh yeah, as hard as it is to believe, "Guffman" didn't just get butts into those theater seats, it brought 'em back two and three times.

With "A Mighty Wind," Guest's humor-ripe locale is the world of folk music, and as with "Best in Show" (which this reviewer has seen more times than she cares to admit in print) and "Waiting for Guffman," he and Levy have organized their tale around the preparations for and the participants in a "Major Event." In this case, it's a televised reunion concert of three wildly different folk acts.

First, there's The Folksmen (Guest along with "Spinal Tap" co-stars Michael McKean and Harry Shearer), an agreeable trio who aren't quite as famous as they might have been, their fame cut short because a distributor was too cheap to punch holes in the center of their records. (If you remember any of the folk-music era, "The Folksmen" music most resembles that of "The Kingston Trio.")

Next on board are the squeaky-clean New Main Street Singers (a "neuftet" headed by John Michael Higgins, Jane Lynch and Parker Posey), who deliver such toe-tapping faves as "Potato's in the Paddy Wagon." (OK here, think an aggressively perky blend of "New Christy Minstrels" with "Up, Up With People.")

Rounding out the once-in-a-lifetime reunion concert bill is Mitch and Mickey (Levy, Catherine O'Hara), a long-estranged romantic duo, who after much angst and mood-altering medication, reunite for one last performance of their crossover hit, "A Kiss at the End of the Rainbow." (Hmmm, imagine Joan Baez and Bob Dylan.)

While Levy and O'Hara have demonstrated their great on-screen chemistry before (they were the happy owners of the Norwich terrier in "Best In Show"), here they achieve something magical. Although Mickey is now ensconced in suburban comfort, warbling jingles for Sure-Flo, her hubby's catheter business, and Mitch is struggling with depression and artistic blockage, their reunion is both funny and sweetly touching.

Mitch, who chokes out every word he speaks as if he's in great pain (the comic timing and spin he puts on the line "I would love to see Crabbetown in autumn" is a movie in itself), seems to gain strength merely from gazing upon his once-beloved Mickey. Quietly, effortlessly, O'Hara and Levy build genuine tension and we in the audience find ourselves not only wondering if the two will end their song with the traditional shared kiss, but caring!

Levy and O'Hara may be the heart of the movie, but Guest allows each of his buddies a moment to shine. Shearer is very funny as the mellow-toned bass player who finds the reunion concert an invigorating reason for personal rebirth. Ed Begley Jr. is note-perfect as a Swedish television exec who keeps lapsing, for no good reason, into Yiddish. And Jennifer Coolidge brings her trademark smile of strained cluelessness, but here with a distinct Hispanic flavor, to a tiny role.

But here's the bad news: "A Mighty Wind" doesn't have perfect pitch throughout. A few of the comic bits, such as Higgins and Lynch's "color religion" nuttiness or Fred Willard's X-treme bellowing boor of an agent, fall flat or leave us confounded.

However, in the end, Guest & Co. serenade us with 92 minutes of pleasure that fly by like the wind — even on a repeat viewing. hhhh S

"A Mighty Wind" had yet to be scheduled for Richmond at press time. Call theaters for updated movie schedules.

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