It’s tempting to say “Scotland, Pa.,” Billy Morrissette’s retelling of “Macbeth,” is “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury and signifying nothing.” But in fact, Morrissette is clearly not an idiot, there’s not a lot of sound and fury about the low-key indie flick, and signifying nothing … well, duh. It’s a dark comedy.
No, the problem with “Scotland, Pa.” is that its clever concept is almost all it has going for it — and Morrissette seems a little too impressed with himself about the whole thing.
It’s the same story as Shakespeare’s “Macbeth,” set in early-1970s suburbia. Joe “Mac” McBeth (James LeGros) and his wife, Pat (Maura Tierney), work at Duncan’s, a small-town fast food joint. The friendly owner, Norm Duncan (James Rebhorn) is about to make co-worker Anthony “Banko” Banconi (Kevin Corrigan) the new manager; Pat, getting more and more dissatisfied with their white-trash little existence, urges Mac to kill Duncan and steal his revolutionary idea for a drive-thru window.
Weak-willed Mac goes along with it, and Pat gets a nasty burn from the deep-fryer on her hand. Since neither of Duncan’s sons is interested in the business, it goes to the McBeths, who turn it into a huge success. Police lieutenant Ernie McDuff (show-stealer Christopher Walken) is on the case, though, trying to figure out who killed Duncan. Anyone who took high school English knows how it will turn out.
The modernizations of Shakespeare’s plot are always droll, occasionally ingenious. The three “witches” (they’re hippies now) greet Mac by name — not because they’re mind-readers, but because “Hey, Mac” is a customary way of getting a stranger’s attention. Pat’s burn becomes her “damn spot,” which she insists is still there even after it’s gone. The film is rife with jokes like that, jokes you’ll appreciate a lot more if you’re familiar with “Macbeth.” Trouble is, after a while, Morrissette’s focus switches from humor (which he does pretty well) to suspense and intrigue (which are necessarily limited, since we know how it’s going to end and who’s going to die). The reason this is problematic is that the characters have all been set up as nothing but whimsical shlubs. When we’re suddenly asked to care about their dire circumstances, we can’t. They’re one-note caricatures, not tragic Shakespearean heroes. The fun is great while it lasts; one only wishes it would last throughout the entire film.
C+ (; )