Amelie director Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s new film Micmacs is an entertaining and inventive caper about the international arms trade told with the director’s signature visual flair. Opening with a bang, the first section races through the early life of Bazil (Danny Boon), whose solider father is killed by a landmine in Algeria. His distraught mother is taken away by the men in white coats, and young Bazil ends up in an orphanage. Years later, he’s working as a video-shop clerk when a stray bullet from a gangland shooting ends up lodged in his brain.

Out of hospital, broke and homeless, Bazil falls in with a group of eccentric misfits, the Micmacs of the title, who live in a cocoon of recycled rubbish on the outskirts of Paris. The gang is led by the maternal Tambouille (Yolande Moreau) and includes numbers genius Calculette (Marie-Julie Baup), human cannonball Fracasse (Jeunet regular Dominique Pinon) and contortionist Caoutchouc (Julie Ferrier).

One day, while diving through a skip for fresh junk, Bazil notices that the two buildings on either side of the street have very familiar corporate logos. One is the firm that made the bullet in his cerebellum. The other made the landmine that did for his dear papa. Charged with a determination to put an end to both companies, he teams up with the Micmacs to pitch both company CEOs (Andre Dussolier and Nicolas Marie) against one another.

Jeunet prefers to show his audience the story, rather than have his characters explain it, so Micmacs is packed with short, snappy, almost silent sequences that, taken together, closely resemble a plot. The elaborate stings which Bazil and friends mount on the two arms dealers make up most of the film’s running time and each is more entertaining and elaborate than the last, using all of Jeunet’s considerable wit.

The execution and editing of these cinematic conceits is astonishing, as is the director’s complicated set design and hand-made props. With Boon’s mobile face and graceful movement, Micmacs is a live-action cartoon, like Buster Keaton’s take on Snow White & The Seven Dwarves, a mood further enhanced by the thunderous score taken from the archive of 1940s noir at Warner Brothers. Micmacs is a master-class in production design and visual invention, but that’s about all it is. Jeunet’s many fans will be thrilled but those seeking a deeper story, or any story at all, might be disappointed.