‘McMillions’: Sundance TV Review

Variety | 1/1/2020 | Daniel D'Addario
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The tale of the McDonald’s Monopoly-game heist was one **** of a story. Indeed, it seems to have been too much story for “McMillions,” a documentary series premiering at Sundance ahead of a bow on HBO, to tell — even with the benefit of six episodes.

The story we’re told here is less about what happened — a scam involving accumulating all the most powerful stickers in the fast-food chain’s annual sweepstakes, as reported in a Daily Beast piece designed to lend itself to a screen adaptation — than how it did, with a cast of characters who are made to seem likelier to have emerged from the pens of Joel and Ethan Coen than from life. But the film seems uncertain how to handle the bounty of both incident and of peculiar humanity that flows out of its story. The pacing, for instance, forces the viewer to hurry up and wait. We’re told very early in the first episode that a Jacksonville field office of the FBI had been tipped off to inconsistencies in the contest, rushed into their investigation, and then mired in chaos and confusion that doesn’t build so much as settles in.

Filmmakers - James - Lee - Hernandez - Brian

The filmmakers, James Lee Hernandez and Brian Lazarte, are so enamored of the characters who crop up in the story that they allow them to veer onto narrative tangents, to chat loosely and lightly in a manner that is, if you squint, revealing of character or of some larger theme about American ingenuity and the tradition of scamming. But that’s giving “McMillions” quite a bit of credit, credit that it earns through the good fortune of having interesting subjects and not through craft. Indeed, the film leans hard on artless devices, including a predilection for re-enactment that feels like something out of “America’s Most Wanted.”

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