With hard rock music, community theater and dog shows already tackled, Christopher Guest and his loyal improv troupe turn their satirical eye on yet another American institution: ’60s folk music. Though not as outright funny as Guest’s previous efforts, “A Mighty Wind” is some of the crew’s smartest work to date. From the eerily authentic folk tunes to the nuanced performances, Guest et al. are at the top of their game.

Much of the film focuses on separated folk duo Mitch and Mickey (Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara). Levy turns in perhaps the best performance of his life as the drugged-up and spaced-out Mitch Cohen; he stares out wide-eyed from under a salt-and-pepper mop, using every square foot of his bushy eyebrows.

The original Spinal Tap trio (Guest, Michael McKean and Harry Shearer) are also featured prominently as the squeaky clean Folksmen, a group that found success in the ’60s with albums like Ramblin’, Hitchin’ and Wishin’.

Rounding out the ensemble are the New Main Street Singers. Led by Terry Bohner (John Michael Higgins) along with his reformed porn star wife Laurie (Jane Lynch) and gutterpunk-turned-clean-cut-folkie Sissy Knox (Parker Posey), they are a rebirth of the original folk “neuftet.” But it is Fred Willard who dominates the group’s scenes as onetime sitcom star and current Singers’ manager Mike LaFontaine. Willard once again proves to have the quickest wit of the cast, delivering his trademark one-liners with a buoyant laugh and stupid grin.

Like “Spinal Tap” and “Waiting for Guffman” before it, “A Migthy Wind” features cast-written music. Tunes like the Folksmen’s “Old Joe’s Place” and Mitch and Mickey’s “A Kiss at the End of the Rainbow,” the songs capture the sound and mood of ’60s folk perfectly.

Perhaps most admirable about “A Mighty Wind” – and any other Guest picture for that matter – is the attitude the cast takes toward its characters. Sure, they’re funny send-ups of stereotypes, but it’s clear that they feel a warm affection for their characters that saves the film from appearing meanspirited and makes it succeed.

Rating: 4 stars.

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