Tuesday, October 9, 2012

God Bless America

Frank Murdoch suffers from migraines, has neighbors who drive him crazy, works at an uptight way-too-pc insurance company, watches way too much reality tv, has a brat daughter, a spineless ex wife and is just about to reach his overflow point on the bullshit meter. Just when he seems about to lose it, he finds out he has an inoperable brain tumor. He decides he cannot take it anymore and to take his own life. With the gun in his mouth, his eye catches a sweet sixteen-esque reality show and gets a better idea. Instead of killing himself, why not go on a killing spree first, blowing away everyone who represents the shallow, idiotic and lazy parts of American culture.

He quickly teams up with a high school student with a similarly lax view of killing and enraged opinion of the state of the populace in America. And so the Bonny and Clyde wannabe’s begin their trek across the country obliterating the Bill O’Reilly’s, the Westboro Baptist Churches and the American Idol’s of the world. How long will he last before cancer or cops take him out?
I gotta say, the premise of this movie sounds fun. Not that killing sounds fun, but I do like the idea of a cathartic comedy about a man who goes on a Falling Down style rampage on the aspects of our culture that seem to me to be poisoning the American well. At the same time, I fear the premise comes off as a bit of a one-note approach. Basically, a premise like that can only stay engaging for so long. Might have been better suited for, say, a short or for the first and second act of the film.
The biggest problem with God Bless America, however, is it’s mixed morality and message. The main character seems so annoyed by lethargy, sloth and idiocy that he’s willing to murder, yet the guy is chubby, sits at home watching mindless television all day and doesn’t have the jewels enough to stand up to anyone, not his ex-wife, not his job, not even his neighbors. In other words, how far a cry removed is he from his victims? Then there’s the fact that there are victims at all. Now, I know, this is a comedy and meant to be ridiculous, but, still, the very premise that the way to confront those you dislike is through murder sort of dilutes the message a bit, doesn’t it?
So, did I hate it? No, I actually enjoyed it quite a bit. The reason I liked it, beyond liking the idea of indulging in a bit of comedic revenge fantasy, largely lies in the fantastic performances of Joel Murray and Tara Lynne Barr. They are great, I mean, really great. They made the characters human and funny. I also like when actors who are new or relatively obscure step up to the plate and knock it out of the park. This is Barr’s one and only film credit and Joel Murray is one of those actors that you know you’ve seen in something or other but you can’t remember what it was. He’s perhaps best known as Bill Murray’s brother, which is not exactly what an actor wants as their claim to fame. Well, they both kicked ass here. So, in the end, if you want to indulge in some well acted but (unintentionally ironically) shallow revenge comedic catharsis, then this is your flick. I gotta say, I didn’t mind seeing them take out those Westboro Baptists folks, that’s for sure.

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