Think about the worst movie ideas you've had in your life, the ones so embarrassing they make you wince. Now imagine this: a modernized version of Shakespeare's "Macbeth" titled "Scotland, Pa." And it's reset in a small-town burger joint in the 1970s, with married employees Joe and Mac McBeth murdering their employer, taking over the joint, renaming it "McBeth's" and finally being hotly pursued by relentless big-city cop Ernie McDuff.
Sound like fun? Well, it strikes me as one of the most ridiculous ideas in years - and in the era of "Tomcats" and "Little Nicky," that's saying something. It's not surprising to hear that writer-director Billy Morrissette first came up with the concept as a disgruntled 16-year-old working for a rotten boss in a South Windsor, Conn., Dairy Queen. What's amazing is that he actually filmed the idea 20 years later, as a movie starring James LeGros as Joe "Mac" McBeth, Christopher Walken as Ernie McDuff and Morrissette's talented actress-wife, Maura Tierney, as the sinister Pat McBeth.
The movie that results is mind-numbing - though it may appeal to senses of humor more wide-open than mine. From the moment I saw Morrissette's version of the Three Weird Sisters - three hippies played by Andy Dick, Speed Levitch and Amy Smart - the movie lost me completely. I stayed alienated right through the introduction of murdered fast-food king Norm Duncan's sons as a would-be rocker and a gay Broadway-musical fanatic, to the frantic scene where Pat McBeth imagines she's covered with french-fry grease burns, and the final sword fight between McDuff and McBeth on the roof of McBeth's, beneath golden arches. Trying for a mix of satire, horror and small-town comedy-drama, "Scotland, Pa." succeeds only as a memorable travesty. It fails to click even when the usually foolproof Walken is on screen - and when this reigning master of blond, blue-eyed, off-kilter menace starts drowning before your eyes, you know the entire movie is headed for a watery grave.
There's one exception: Tierney is interesting as Pat McBeth, not first-rate but intriguing enough to keep you looking at her - often in self-defense from the rest of the movie. Her character is a sullen, ambitious, tight-jeaned small-town siren who's crazy for sex with Mac and resentful of the half-rich people above her. She rarely cracks a smile and never breaks character - although those french-fry grease-burn scenes (Out, damned grease!) give her plenty of provocation.
Like many other would-be comedies set in small towns - made by talented small-town guys who've broken out - this one lays the satire on with a trowel. McBeth's pal "Banko" (Kevin Corrigan) is a stoned burger cook. The three hippies hang in an empty amusement park. Most of the Scotland residents are drunk or stupefied. Oddly, I would definitely go to see the next Billy Morrissette movie - especially if it starred Tierney and had more Bad Company on the soundtrack. Here is a filmmaker with real chutzpah. And to say that this must be the worst film version of "Macbeth" is probably unfair - I haven't seen every screen version of "Macbeth." I missed the 1955 modern-day gangster version with Paul Douglas and Ruth Roman. I missed the unreleased Pauly Shore update, set in a Peoria disco, with Jenny McCarthy as Lady McBabe. (Just kidding on that last one.) But I don't really want to see a worse "Macbeth" or even think of one. Out, damned flop!
"Scotland, PA" Opens Friday, Feb. 15. Running time: 1:44. MPAA rating: R (language, some nudity, drug content and brief violence).
Michael Wilmington is the Chicago Tribune movie critic.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times