- The Washington Times - Friday, April 18, 2003

"A Mighty Wind" has a satisfying ring as both title and title song. The title could add a new euphemism for "hot air" to the language. The song puts a deftly mocking yet rousing capper on the movie's show within a show, a memorial concert for a recently deceased impresario of folk-rock balladeers during the 1960s.
Jonathan Steinbloom (Bob Balaban), the fussbudget son of the dear departed, engineers the tribute, attracting three acts once associated with his dad: the lovebird duo of Mitch and Mickey (Eugene Levy and Catherine O'Hara); the close-harmony trio known as the Folksmen (Christopher Guest, Michael McKean and Harry Shearer); and the updated version of a beamish ensemble called the New Main Street Singers, dominated by a New Age conjugal team, Terry and Laurie Bohner (John Michael Higgins and Jane Lynch).
If these performers sound familiar, it's because all but one (Mr. Shearer) were indispensable to the previous pseudo-documentary directed by Mr. Guest, "Best of Show." That improvisational gem, from a scenario by Mr. Guest and Mr. Levy, was released three years ago.
Three years before that, most of these comedians also were abetting Mr. Guest in "Waiting for Guffman."
The prototype for the Guest-Levy comedies was "This Is Spinal Tap" almost 20 years ago. Rob Reiner's witty directorial debut introduced Mr. Guest, Mr. McKean and Mr. Shearer as three-quarters of a disintegrating British heavy-metal band.
"A Mighty Wind" germinated from the Folksmen, which also harked back to some of Mr. Guest's earliest gigs as an aspiring musician in New York City in the 1960s. The pop idiom has changed, but the group's flair for synthetic folk songs is also admirable, a deadpan melding of satiric and affectionate impulses.
A stock company in the tradition of Preston Sturges' regulars, this ensemble has emerged as the most reliable single comedy troupe now enhancing American movies.
A resourceful example of the original movie musical, "A Mighty Wind" arrives just in time to follow through on the prestige of "Chicago." The format is a model of crispness and efficiency: Introduce the principal and subsidiary characters with a promising flourish; observe them in rehearsal for the concert; capture the highlights of the concert; append a witty epilogue.
The only weak link proves to be the Mitch and Mickey reunion. It looks hilarious in its early stages and recovers nicely during the concert, but it encounters some intermediate snags.
The catch may be the slowed-down reaction time built into Mr. Levy's image of Mitch as a post-therapeutic wreck. He enters soon after leaving the asylum, resembling John Sebastian in a permanent daze. You're also teased with apprehensions of a Mitch blow-up that never materializes, despite provocations during his re-entry time with Mickey and her spouse, a catheter salesman and model-train enthusiast.
The Folksmen seem as comfortable together as antique slippers, a complacency that tends to rankle Mr. McKean as their most ambitious and dissatisfied member.
The Main Streeters are the wackiest of the acts, in part because of the mystic pretensions of the Bohners, but also because of the loose-cannon brilliance of Fred Willard as their screwball manager, Mike LaFontaine. Mr. Willard, whose running commentary in "Best of Show" anticipated the phenomenal kibitzing of LaFontaine, could make one of his moronic catch phrases, "Wha' hoppened?" a national craze.
Ed Begley Jr., the painfully kind hotel clerk who accommodated Mr. Levy and Miss O'Hara with a utility closet in "Best of Show," gets a terrific opportunity in "A Mighty Wind" as the president of an entity called the Public Broadcasting Network. He jumps at the chance to televise the memorial concert, reconciling folk roots that stretch back to his Swedish boyhood and forward to his borrowings from Yiddish.
Parker Posey, who seemed to become a professional in Mr. Guest's care, is back onboard as a Main Street overcompensator, the daughter of a founding member of the group. Michael Hitchcock derives maximum comic advantage from a handful of scenes as the events manager at the Town Hall, which hosts the concert. He and Mr. Balaban emerge as rivals of a formidably prissy sort when clashing over the stage set approved by Mr. Hitchcock, an imposing evocation of Washington Square as a folk-rock mecca.
In all likelihood, "A Mighty Wind" will share the comic sturdiness of "Spinal Tap," "Guffman" and "Best in Show," which remain funny and distinctive in subsequent viewings.
Opening just a week after the execrable, pre-sold movie farce "Anger Management," "A Mighty Wind" affords a convenient opportunity to compare the drawing power of a conspicuously bad comedy and a sneakily classic comedy.

****Four stars
TITLE: "A Mighty Wind"
RATING: PG-13 (Occasional sexual allusions and comic vulgarity)
CREDITS: Directed by Christopher Guest. Written by Mr. Guest and Eugene Levy. Cinematography by Arlene Donnelly Nelson. Production design by Joseph T. Garrity. Costume design by Durinda Wood. Editing by Robert Leighton.
RUNNING TIME: 87 minutes
MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS


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