Combustible Celluloid
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With: James Le Gros, Maura Tierney, Christopher Walken, Kevin Corrigan, James Rebhorn, Tom Guiry, Amy Smart, Timothy 'Speed' Levitch, Andy Dick, Geoff Dunsworth, Josh Pais, Reed Rudy, John Cariani, David Wike, Nicola Lipman
Written by: Billy Morrissette, based on a play by William Shakespeare
Directed by: Billy Morrissette
MPAA Rating: R for language, some nudity, drug content and brief violence
Running Time: 104
Date: 02/15/2002

Scotland, Pa. (2002)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Big Mac

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

According to the Internet Movie Database, the works of William Shakespeare have been the basis of, or have at least influenced, some 400-plus movies -- from an 1899 version of King John to the recent O.

With each new film, filmmakers are more and more obligated to justify taking on the Bard, so each film has to re-imagine the Great Works in newer and more exciting ways. Michael Almereyda relocated his Hamlet to the business world of modern day New York, Kenneth Branagh translated Love's Labor's Lost. into a musical, and Tim Blake Nelson re-interpreted his Othello as a high school basketball player.

The new film Scotland, PA not only takes one of Shakespeare's plays and moves it to a 1970s hamburger joint, but it also transforms one of his deepest tragedies into a smart new comedy.

Based on Macbeth, the action centers around Joe 'Mac' McBeth (James LeGros), a hamburger slinger who works in a popular restaurant and hopes for a promotion. Mac has ideas for the place, see, like a drive-thru window and chicken nuggets. His wife Pat (the wonderful Maura Tierney) keeps reminding him of his ambitions, goading him into taking chances.

When the restaurant's owner Norm Duncan (James Rebhorn) passes Mac over for promotion, Mac and Pat attempt to rob the safe but end up accidentally dunking him in the fry cooker, killing him instantly. The Duncan heirs, Malcolm (Tom Guiry) and Donald (Geoff Dunsworth) sell the place to Mac and Pat, and the couple turns it into a real moneymaker. Meanwhile, Lt. Ernie McDuff (Christopher Walken) starts poking around into the murder case.

As written and directed by bit actor Billy Morrissette (as seen in such fare as Ghoulies 3 and Vegas Vacation), the film updates other elements from Macbeth. The three witches who predict Macbeth's plight in the play become stoned hippies, played by Amy Smart, Andy Dick and Speed Levitch (from Waking Life), hanging around a playground.

Morissette also adds a few new items such as the younger Duncan brother casually hiding his homosexuality (he listens to "lite rock" instead of accepted dude-music like Bad Company). And McDuff has an idiot assistant named Ed (John Cariani) who complains, "I've called this number 900 times! I almost have it memorized!"

Some of this stuff works and some doesn't, but the overall effect is satisfying. It's amazing how quickly and easily tragedy becomes comedy with just the right twist. I think Scotland, PA might make a nice addition to any high school curriculum studying Macbeth. It will let students know that Shakespeare was meant to be messed around with, which is why he provided so few stage directions.

LeGros delivers a kind of half-stoned, disaffected Macbeth who needs a push now and then. Tierney really shines, showing both just how marvelously normal and marvelously frenzied she can be in any kind of movie. The pale, blotchy indie character actor Kevin Corrigan turns up as Mac's best buddy, and Walken gets to be funny for real -- not unintentionally as in the recent, misguided The Affair of the Necklace.

In fact, the final shot -- a brilliant, one-joke shot featuring Walken -- is worth the price of admission alone.

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