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Big Mac 

Scotland, PA. serves fast-food Shakespeare

The Shakespearean retread of Scotland, PA. imagines the power-mad Macbeth and his scheming Lady as '70s stoners whose greatest joys are radio "rock blocks" and drunken games of Yahtzee. In an age of hyper-serious O's, Kenneth Branagh productions and soul-patched Hamlets, Scotland, PA. is one of the cleverest cinematic revivals of Shakespeare in years -- a comedy bold enough to picture Macbeth as an angry fry cook compelled to commit murder when overlooked for promotion.

Drifting slightly from its original moorings in medieval Scotland, Shakespeare's juicy murder tale shifts to a rural Pennsylvania shithole, heaped to the rafters with aimless potheads who staff the local burger joint (Duncan's) and operate tanning booths called "When a Tan Loves a Woman."

Billy Morrissette's loveably goofy comedy also strays from crisp Elizabethan line readings and hews more closely to the Jack Daniels-and-Tab mumbling patois of the Led Zeppelin and bong set. Scotland, PA. centers on the daft, sloppy efforts of Joe "Mac" McBeth (James LeGros), prodded by his ambitious, Ali MacGraw-lithe wife Pat (Maura Tierney) to murder hated boss Norm Duncan (James Rebhorn), who owns the greasy spoon where they toil as cook and hash-slinger.

Many buffoonish brainings with skillets and dips in the fry vat later, Duncan is a goner and Pat and Mac are the proud proprietors of McBeths, home are the combo meal and a french fry-mobile.

The only thing pissing on Mac and Beth's carnivorous drive-thru kingdom is a vegetarian, straight-edge investigator, Lt. Ernie McDuff (Christopher Walken), who sniffs something other than lard sizzling in the deep-fryer. Pat and Mac's seemingly brain-damaged cohort Banquo (the underappreciated Kevin Corrigan) also starts to exhibit signs of alarming clarity that implicate Pat and Mac in some sloppy track-covering.

Casting is everything in indieland, and Scotland, PA. is a veritable Piccadilly buffet of good actin', particularly Corrigan (Walking and Talking, Buffalo 66) whose slack-jawed, bleary expression shows a man well acquainted with Saturday morning hair of the dog sessions. With his stoned mug and vacant expression, LeGros is just barely up to the task of playing Alpha male to his posse of aging party boys. As Pat, the slightly witchy, tres cool Maura Tierney suggests that behind every pothead is an aggressive old lady with a dream. Here the woman behind the wasteoid pushes her reluctant husband/stooge toward greater and greater malfeasance while showing off a wardrobe of hip huggers and cleavage-baring peasant tops that would do a Sonny and Cher-era Miss Thing proud.

Scotland, PA. is not only set amidst the stoner-ati, it assumes some of its shambling, what-the-hell ambiance. Mac and Pat's motives are hilariously pedestrian, a mixture of blind lust, laziness and the desire to get rid of a despised boss. Morrissette not only revisits but revitalizes a centuries-old tale from an abstract drama to a true crime story we can relate to, of a small-town yokel nonchalantly engaged in murder, drug use and employee theft of bulk drinking straws.

Morrissette enlivens his neo-Mac with a host of suitably wacky sidebar characters like the two heirs to the Duncan fast-food kingdom, brothers Malcolm and Donald. Malcolm is a rebellious guitar stroker in a '70s cover band while the more sensitive Donald is a pouty John Travolta (circa Boy in the Plastic Bubble) babe with a penchant for fondue and Mark Spitz.

Summing up the stoners' what-the-hell creed, Scotland, PA.'s modern variant on "power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely," Lady Pat consoles her lapdog husband in her own amoral way:

"We're not bad ... just underachievers who have to make up for lost time."

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