The director who gave us an alcoholic clown, a woman who sodomized a dog and a Dad exploiting his son’s death can’t go any darker, can he?
Bobcat Goldthwait begins his newest coal black comedy “God Bless America” with a middle-aged man blasting a crying baby to smithereens.
And Goldthwait is just getting started.
“God Bless America” is the writer/director’s attempt to process and critique a culture where sleaze sells, reality shows dominate the water cooler and those nasty, violent Tea Partiers are hijacking the national discourse. His film depicts a Tea Partier physically assaulting a man with Parkinson’s Disease. Of course no Occupy Wall Street violence is shown, even though the film briefly mentions a group with a similar m.o.
“America” connects some deserving dots with our increasingly coarse and crass culture, but Goldthwait's rage would be better served on a stand-up stage, not a big screen.
That he sees fit to include conservatives talk show hosts (xenophobes who spread fear) in his sights as well as the peaceful Tea Party, shows the director’s aim is both to the far left and woefully inaccurate. His slams against Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly are particularly disturbing, and the words he puts in the O'Reilly character’s mouth show Goldthwait either never watched Mr. No Spin himself or simply regurgitated out-of-context snippets from those merchants of misinformation over at Media Matters.
And if Goldthwait’s film had literally targeted Rachel Maddow or Keith Olbermann as it does O’Reilly, the howls of protest would last for weeks.
The bigger issue with “America” is that Goldthwait loses inspiration mid-film, leaving us with distasteful lead characters and speech upon speech that doesn’t feel connected to character or conflict.
“Mad Men’s” Joel Murray stars as Frank, a middle-aged pencil pusher who loses his job but gains an inoperable brain tumor in the film’s opening moments. His daughter hates him, his ex-wife pities him, and there’s nothing to live for except channel surfing onto shows like “Bowling Beat Down Raw” and farting ringtone ads.
“This is the ‘oh, no you didn’t say that’ generation,” he tells a colleague, one of a few sparkling lines wasted in the narrative melee.
So Frank puts a gun in his mouth to end it all, but before he checks out he has a burst of inspiration. Why not take out a few cultural offenders before the tumor takes its toll?
Have gun, will travel, and Frank is hitting the road to clean up society one bratty reality starlet at a time.
Along the way he meets a kindred spirit in spunky Roxy (Tara Lynne Barr), a teenager just as fed up with pop culture rot as he is.
Together, they take down movie theater texters, conservative pundits, raunchy sports radio hosts and even the Westboro Baptist Church, a target so pillow soft it should be considered off-limits by self-respecting satirists.
Goldthwait surely has a point about the coarse nature of popular culture, but he doesn’t have a movie to support his thesis. It’s woefully obvious that Frank and Roxy are Goldthwait, and he puts rants in their mouths that repeatedly stop the film cold.
It’s hard to imagine any teen talking like Roxy, especially when she’s trashing former President George W. Bush, one of many dated references weighing down the story.
“… like some court appointed hillbilly president started taking orders from Jesus or the Easter Bunny or some other make ‘em up play friend of his,” she yells at one point.
You’re failing as a story teller when all the audience can hear is the screenwriter’s voice, not the characters'.
Lynne Barr is a kick at times, a plucky screen presence who brings panache to the proceedings. But her character makes less sense the more the movie drags on. And boy, does it drag. Between the too obvious song selections and the monotony of seeing rude people being killed in cold blood, it’s a new endurance sport to make it to the finale, a poorly executed slam against a certain Karaoke-style singing show.
A better satirist might drill down to explore the reasons why we embrace junk food culture. And a more enlightened filmmaker might realize conservatives want to clean up the culture and would gladly partner with someone who felt equally repelled by dreck such as TLC's “Toddlers and Tiaras.”
Goldthwait doesn’t have time to give the other side a moment’s thought. He’d rather demonize than consider their complaints.
“God Bless America” casually hits a few left of center targets, like Woody Allen and “Glee,” but these are glancing blows compared to the serious hate funneled toward the Right.
The film’s ideological balance would matter far less if it weren’t an undignified mess of a movie.