written and directed by Billy Morrissette with Maura Tierney, James LeGros, and Christopher Walken opens Feb. 22 at Metro
WITH RICHARD NIXON glowering from the wall of a failing fast-food proprietor's office, you know that tragedy is in the air. Oops—make that comedy. Just when you think there's no more snide humor to be wrung out of Watergate-era American culture, Scotland, PA plunges us back into the pre-disco, eight-track '70s. Add it to the ranks of Dick (with Dan Hedaya as jowly Nixon and Kirsten Dunst his teenage foil), Richard Linklater's Dazed and Confused, and That '70s Show. There's seemingly no end to the cringing nostalgia of graying boomers who look back on their youth and declare, "I can't believe we wore those clothes!"
Indeed, the greater success of this loose, loose adaptation of Macbeth isn't its take on Shakespeare but its specific focus on the bizarrely amusing details of that half decade. Set in roughly 1972 (Mark Spitz is glimpsed in a star-spangled Speedo on TV), this modest black comedy centers its action on Duncan's, a dowdy burger shack staffed by a young married couple: Joe "Mac" McBeth (Ally McBeal's James LeGros) and his wife, Pat (ER's Maura Tierney).
Working-class resentment soon rears its head. Why should Duncan and his two lazy sons reap all the benefits from the restaurant where the McBeths slave for minimum wage? Schemingly ambitious Pat puts it this way: "We're not bad people, Mac. We're just underachievers that have to make up for lost time."
That they do. Any synopsis of Macbeth will relate how they quickly dispatch the king, depriving his sons of their rightful inheritance, then spiral into paranoia, blood lust, guilt, and madness. Still, writer-director Billy Morrissette (Tierney's husband) is treating the material for deadpan laughs, not tragic pathos, only paraphrasing his source text with tacky '70s analogues. The witches, for instance, are a trio of hippie-stoner types (Andy Dick, "Speed" Levitch, and Amy Smart) who merely make dopey suggestions that our dour hero construes as prophecy—not the first time that strong weed has had that effect.
Lending to the period feel, '70s icon Christopher Walken is on hand as the investigating cop McDuff (pointedly an outsider, an econobox-driving vegetarian), and he even gets to do a little dance with maracas. Yet Walken's latent acting chops also underscore Scotland, PA's lightweight nature; the jokey conceit is better than its execution. What you're left with is the aggregation of kitschy totems—fondue, frosted bangs, decorated bongs, self-help audio tapes, streakers, "Jack & Tab," patchwork shirts, puka-shell necklaces, wide lapels, fake winter tans, countless Camaros, the bombastic gravity of Bad Company—and the lingering hunger for something substantial to be made out of them.