Monday, February 14, 2011

An American Carol

Oh, David Zucker, how far you have fallen. One of the three writer-directors involved in arguably my favorite movie of all time (The Naked Gun), you’ve now reduced yourself to making a “spoof” that is so focused on trashing anything liberal (or anything that’s opposed to the Bush administration, I should say) that most of its attempts at humor are half-hearted at best.

The film stars Kevin Farley as Michael Malone, a Michael Moore parody who’s trying to get funding for his next movie, which he intends to be a serious drama showcasing the overwhelming corruption and evil that is America, and which will hopefully get him out of the documentarian hole he’s found himself in. Enter Aziz (Robert Davi), Ahmed (Serdar Kalsin), and Mohammed (Geoffery Arend), two filmmakers and a terrorist who want him to make their big pro-terrorism opus, and give him the funding he needs while not telling him about their true purposes. However, Malone is “saved” from his wicked beliefs by the appearance of three ghosts -- General Patton (Kelsey Grammer), George Washington (Jon Voight), and the Angel of Death (Trace Adkins), who show him what the world would be like if all of his foolish liberal beliefs were actually enacted, in order that he learn that conservativism is the only proper outlook on life in time to stop the terrorists from enacting their dastardly plot.

I suppose I should first get out of the way why I’ve been watching these ridiculous conservative films this week. It just so happens that they finally released the trailer for Atlas Shrugged Part 1 (it was originally intended to be a miniseries before all the TV channels passed on it), and since so few movies get made from a hardline conservative viewpoint (well, aside from action movies), I thought it might be fun to watch a couple of the rare ones that actually did get made. I’ve since learned my lesson, and tomorrow you’ll be getting my list of the Top Ten Horror Movies of 2010.

Anyway, this film, unlike Expelled before it, manages to be slightly superior and harder to hate simply by virtue of the fact that it’s so incompetent that hating it would almost seem mean. The jokes are virtually all ponderously obvious and labored, as though Zucker is now getting his material from Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer of ___ Movie fame (sample joke: a kid asks “What’s a demonstration?”, to which Leslie Nielsen replies “It’s when students show how much they don’t know by repeating it loudly”, before of course cutting to Malone giving a speech while throngs of college students wielding large placards angrily chant everything he says). I’m not sure what magical spark it was when Zucker, Jim Abrahams, and Jerry Zucker worked together, but it sure isn’t there when they aren’t.

Then there’s the astonishing politics on display in the film. Obviously, given the plot, Muslims take a lot of hits in the film (indeed, there’s not a single Muslim in the entire film that’s not connected with terrorism -- JUST LIKE IN REAL LIFE, RIGHT GUYS?), as well as Michael Moore (the fat jokes come fast and furious), but they’re hardly alone. No, with this film, we learn that all documentary filmmakers are evil (at a documentary awards ceremony, they start off by honoring Leni Reifenstahl for being such a great inspiration with her beautiful portrayals of Hitler and the Nazi party), all professors are evil, pacifists are evil, separation of Church and State is evil, allowing inmates at Guantanamo access to lawyers is evil, obeying the Constitution is apparently evil, or at least it is if you try to apply it to everyone instead of just The Good Guys, the ACLU is evil, Cuba is evil, the Geneva Convention is evil, is evil, stem cell research is evil, Jimmy Carter is evil, and while I don’t recall the context, I wrote in my notes “ending world hunger”, so I can only assume that’s sick and wrong as well. So what’s good about America? Well, Bill O’Reilly (he’s in the film playing himself), country music (in addition to playing the Angel of Death, Trace Adkins also plays himself and puts on a concert to provide the setting for the climax -- we also get country music over all of the end credits), the Patriot Act, which the terrorists all bemoan as making their jobs harder, and apparently all that added TSA airline security, since Zucker seems to find it ridiculous that anyone would complain about having to take their shoes off, have toothpaste or baby bottles confiscated, or strip searched to use an airplane. Rather surprisingly, he’s also a fan of the Civil War, and argues in the film that it’s the only reason slavery no longer exists in the United States. It’s an interesting statement to make for someone trying to desperately to cozy up to conservatives, many of whom view the Civil War as an unprovoked act of Northern aggression and claim that slavery was on its way out with or without the war. Perhaps this is why the film didn’t do so well in the south. Or perhaps it’s because the movie is terrible, I don’t know.

David Zucker describes himself these days as a 9/11 Republican, which means that he threw away all of his old liberal views when the Twin Towers fell (or possibly when the Pentagon hit, but most people tend to focus more on the former). Now, I know that 9/11 was a traumatic event, but quite honestly, if all of your beliefs and views change when a traumatic world event occurs, then your old beliefs and views were very clearly not all that deeply held, and your new ones must not be either, since clearly all that’s needed is another traumatic event to change them all up again. The film is so rah-rah all things Bush that it almost feels like he’s trying way too hard to show off his new conservative bona fides, as though perhaps if he just trashes liberals that little extra bit more he’ll start getting invited to all the cool conservative parties. It’s a pretty sad state of affairs for someone that was once one of the greatest filmmakers around (Historical note: his very first movie after becoming a 9/11 Republican? My Boss’s Daughter, that awesome Ashton Kutcher/Tara Reid rom-com that swept the nation in 2003).

While one might assume upon reading all this that it’s quite easy to hate such a blatant propaganda piece, but it’s really more sad and embarrassing than anything else. Back in the Zucker/Abrahams/Zucker days, they made such films as Airplane!, The Naked Gun, and Ruthless People, and now that he’s been on his own for a while this is the best he can manage? It’s like Michael Phelps missing the gun going off at the next Olympics because he has to finish his beer first. He hasn’t worked on anything since this came out in 2008, but I’m hoping he can turn himself around, as I don’t think anyone would want this to be the film their career ended with.

Rating: ½ *

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