"Scotland, PA" (IMDb listing) is another modernization of a William Shakespeare play, this time out the selection being "Macbeth." While other productions have taken the Bard and done wonderful things relating his words to today's world, the creators of "Scotland, PA"at least through the impression I get from the press materialsdecided to turn its tale of murder, revenge, betrayal and three pesky witches into a movie because they felt like it. This lackluster heart permeates the entire movie, leaving this stale attempt at dark comedy as flaccid and undistinguished as star James LeGros's period wig.
It is the 1970s, and Joe "Mac" McBeth (James LeGros) and his wife Pat (Maura Tierney) are stuck in dead end jobs at the local fast food hangout, "Duncan's." Joe has dreams of modernizing the restaurant, adding a drive-thru and selling "little bits of chicken with dipping sauce," but can't seem to make an impression on Norm, the owner (James Rebhorn), who carelessly assigns higher duties to his wannabe rockstar son (Tom Guiry). Out late one night drinking, Joe comes across three mysterious hippies (Andy Dick, Timothy Speed Levtich, and Amy Smart) who convince him that his ideas for the restaurant are worthy and he must show ambition to make them happen. With almost homicidal support from Pat, Joe takes his future into his own hands and kills Norm, thus gaining control of the restaurant. All is well for Joe and Pat until a detective (Christopher Walken) comes to Scotland and threatens to uncover the rotten core to the couple's ideal life.
It makes me a little queasy to see the filmmakers behind "Scotland, PA" take their idea so lightly, since these Shakespeare adaptations are usually (with the exception of the recent "O") chock full of resourcefulness and delight. "Scotland, PA" is a dark comedy and low budgeted, and in being those two things, assumes it has some license to get away with any kind of emotional temperature change it so desires. Writer/Director Billy Morrissette presumes his material is clever enough to skate by on the constantly rotating moods of the film, and his witalong with the Goodyear blimp-sized symbolismis charming enough to make the more bitter moments slide down the gullet with ease. But it isn't enough, and the film is often a chore to sit through. It's not that the film isn't funny enough (it isn't), or that the acting is without passion (it is), but it's more this snide feeling that Morrissette instills in his piece that what we are watching is the cleverest damn thing you've ever seen. I hate to break it to him, but many filmmakers have beaten him to the punchline on this one.
The setting of "Scotland, PA" is also a cop-out. Using the 1970s as a whipping boy for cheap jokes about bongs and Bad Company has become the norm in recent years, but Morrissette plunges headlong into this well-worn territory without a care to what has come before. Big floppy sunglasses, waterbeds, Mark Spitz, the aforementioned wig on LeGros, and "Godspell" all get another workout in this new picture, with the film expecting us to laugh at these period details. Even with the Shakespeare angle, "Scotland, PA" isn't doing anything we haven't seen before ad nauseam.
This tired, somewhat sloppy approach to the filmmaking also applies to the acting as well, the worst offender being Maura Tierney. I've always enjoyed Tierney, and in one of her first big screen efforts outside of playing the occasional cuckolded girlfriend or the whiny wife, Tierney makes a critical character mistake and envisions her Pat role as someone who just curses for the hell of it. Its random usage of the F word over and over again. Again I ask, are we supposed to laugh at this? Tierney's performance becomes boorish as soon as it begins, and with the lifeless LeGros at her side, the two leads are left in the dust by the more capable supporting cast.
The third act of "Scotland, PA" plays a little stronger than the other two, in that it takes the tragedy of Shakespeare's play a little more seriously as the fates of the leads are sealed. However, it's a case of too little, too late. Billy Morrissette's "Scotland, PA" isn't nearly as dangerous nor as clever as the film wants to be. Had a little more care gone into the story structure, or even recasting some of the actors, much more could've been accomplished with this opportunity to refurbish the dusty old Bard.
Filmfodder Grade: D