GOD BLESS AMERICA (2011)
GOD BLESS AMERICA (2011)
Movie Review by L.L. Soares
Bobcat Goldthwait started out as a comedian, transitioning from stand-up to movie roles in stuff like the POLICE ACADEMY films in the 80s (he played “Zed” in numbers 2 – 5), ONE CRAZY SUMMER (1986) and the talking horse comedy, HOT TO TROT (1988). His characters were odd, and he often made loud, phlegmy noises when he spoke. In other words, he wasn’t for everybody. Some people thought he was funny. I’m sure plenty of others thought he was annoying. As for me, I was on the fence. He was unusual enough to get my attention, but he was in a lot of movies that weren’t very good.
He began his directing career in 1991, with a strange and dark comedy called SHAKES THE CLOWN, which gave us a look into the personal lives of some very unhappy clowns. The movie opens with Shakes (yes, his name refers to the fact that he’s also an alcoholic) waking up after having spent the night with Florence Henderson (Mrs. Brady herself!). The movie got mixed to negative reviews when it came out, but I kinda liked it.
Along with movies, his directing career has also gotten him work on television shows like THE MAN SHOW (2000 – 2003), CRANK YANKERS (2002) and CHAPELLE’S SHOW (2003).
He’s been focusing more and more on movies for the last few years, and has had some success with independent comedies like SLEEPING DOGS LIE (2006), about a woman with a very embarrassing secret that ruins all the relationships in her life; WORLD’S GREATEST DAD (2009), where Robin Williams plays the father of a really annoying kid, who turns his son into a legend by writing a poignant and fake “diary” for the kid after he accidentally kills himself in a very embarrassing way; and now GOD BLESS AMERICA. Goldthwait has become one of our best directors of dark satire.
In GOD BLESS AMERICA, which has been making the rounds of some theaters in limited release recently, Frank (Joel Murray) is a lonely, divorced guy who just lost his job, and is on the fast track to losing his life as well—when his doctor tells him about an inoperable brain tumor he found. With everything falling apart around him, Frank gets out his gun, puts it in his mouth, and decides to end it all.
But the television is on (it seems like his television is always on), and there’s a reality show on about a horrible girl celebrating her 16th birthday, belittling her rich parents into spending as much money on the event as possible, and Frank suddenly finds a reason to live. Why just kill himself, after all, when he can take some of the world’s more loathsome people with him?
So he steals his idiot neighbor’s sports car, and tracks the girl down. Figuring he is going to die anyway, Frank isn’t concerned about breaking the law or its repercussions. He finds the girl, Chloe, in the parking lot of her high school (in one of the rare instances when she isn’t being filmed for her reality show), getting into the car that her parents just bought her (that she complained about, screeching, on television), and offs her. One of the witnesses is another girl, named Roxy (Tara Lynne Barr) who, instead of being horrified by the act of violence, thinks it’s terrific, because she hates the self-involved reality TV star, too.
Roxy tracks Frank down to a motel room afterwards (where again, he’s about to blow his brains out) and convinces him that he’s onto something here. Why just stop at one horrible reality star, when there are so many more who deserve to die? Not only does she save Frank from killing himself, she gives him a final mission in life. And she wants to be his sidekick in his killing spree.
So they go around killing more despicable people, including that girl Chloe’s mealy-mouthed parents (Larry Miller and Dorie Barton), and a bullying, Bill O’Reilly-type political pundit, and as the bodies pile up, so does their glee at what they’re doing. Strangely, while the media covers the murders on the nightly news, no cops seem to be on their trail, and not until the end, in a scene on the set of an “American Idol”-type talent show, do they seem to be in danger of being arrested for their crimes at all.
As the movie goes on, their criteria for who deserves killing grows more and more trivial, as even talking in a movie theater becomes an execution-worthy offense. And what about when Frank finds out that he might have been misdiagnosed?
The acting here is top-notch. Joel Murray is one of those actors who you’ve seen in tons of things, but might not know his name. Most recently he had major roles in the Showtime series SHAMELESS, where he played another sad sack named Eddie Jackson, and the AMC series MAD MEN, where he played ad man Fred Rumsen. But you might have also seen him on network shows like DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES and TWO AND A HALF MEN. While I was watching the movie, I kept thinking that he looked a lot like Brian Doyle Murray, who also has a huge list of television credits. When I looked him up, I found up that Joel and Brian are brothers, which means that Joel also has another, slightly more famous brother, named Bill! To think I’ve been a fan of Joel’s for all this time without realizing he was Bill Murray’s brother! Joel specializes in playing down-on-their-luck guys, and he’s perfectly cast in GOD BLESS AMERICA.
Tara Lynne Barr holds her own in the movie as Frank’s only friend and “sidekick” Roxy. Her acting resume isn’t quite as extensive as Murray’s, but she had roles on TV shows like CROSSING JORDAN (2005) and The Disney Channel’s THE SUITE LIFE OF ZACK AND CODY. Based on her performance here, I wouldn’t be surprised if she started getting a lot more movie roles. She’s that good.
Obviously, with this very dark storyline, GOD BLESS AMERICA is not going to appeal to everyone. Some people are just not going to ever find murder funny. But for those of us who have watched reality TV and totally despised the shrill, self-obsessed idiots who populate too much of our “popular entertainment,” this movie has the potential to be a very wicked guilty pleasure.
GOD BLESS AMERICA is not perfect, however. The fact that nobody tries to stop them for weeks struck me as completely unrealistic, which just emphasizes the fantasy elements here. This is not the real world. And there are times when Frank and Roxy’s agenda (especially Roxy’s list of the kinds of people she hates) seems rather elitist, but I guess that’s the point, since, by the time they’re killing people for just being rude, things have reached an absurd level. There are, though, moments in the film when it just seems to be preaching at us, about what’s wrong with our society and popular culture, and it’s those moments that are the movie’s weakest. As a viewer, I don’t want to be preached to. Luckily there are only a few missteps in that direction. Not enough to ruin what’s good about the film.
Despite its flaws, I found GOD BLESS AMERICA to be pretty entertaining. And there are some very funny moments here. There’s a lot to like about this movie if your sense of humor tends to be dark. I give it three out of five knives.
© Copyright 2012 by L.L. Soares
(Note: If GOD BLESS AMERICA isn’t playing in limited release in a city near you, you might also be able to catch it on Cable OnDemand)
LL Soares gives GOD BLESS AMERICA ~three knives.