By Heather Havrilesky firstname.lastname@example.org
Review: GOD BLESS THIS MESS
With “God Bless America,” Bob Goldthwait takes aim at slow-moving targets and shoots himself in the foot
The only thing worse than the sudden, crushing realization that much of American pop culture is vile, hateful, and stupid is watching a movie in which the main character has this sudden, crushing realization, then proceeds to lecture other characters on said realization. As a result, Bobcat Goldthwait’s “God Bless America” is pretty much doomed from the start, since our hero, Frank (Joel Murray), launches into his diatribe a few minutes after the movie begins.
To be fair, though, he’s up against a lot, even this early in the film. The very first scene of the movie, which I won’t give away, is supposed to be shocking but just comes off as juvenile, pointless gore. Next, we’re forced to sit through a lengthy scene in which Frank watches several fictional television programs that aren’t exaggerations or parodies of real programs so much as direct carbon copies of what we can watch on our own TVs in the real world. Thus do we witness “American Superstar,” a singing competition featuring a British judge who shouts “Do you have a mental problem?” at a fat, tuneless kid while a Latino judge and a black judge laugh along. Yes, this show is just like “American Idol,” only far less interesting or funny. Next, there’s the Fox News-like pundit and the VH1 catfight show, both of them more frantic but less colorful versions of the real deal.
By the time we meet Frank’s coworkers (who are uniformly idiots) and his daughter (who is a bratty, shallow jerk) and his boss (who is a mindless drone), we’re already flat-lining. Murray, who may be best known as Freddy Rumsen on “Mad Men,” isn’t particularly funny here, and instead of setting us up with some warped or exaggerated scenes to elicit our laughter, Goldthwait only manages to alienate us by having Frank imagine blowing away his coworkers with a handgun. Similar to the bland imitations of shows we’re forced to endure at the start of the film, these lackluster scenes come off like tone-deaf, repetitive versions of far better scenes from “Office Space.” Worst of all, though, Frank launches into a self-righteous outburst about “American Superstar,” of all low-hanging fruit. “Everything is so cruel now, I just want it to stop. I mean, nobody talks about anything anymore. They just regurgitate everything they see on TV,” he informs his cubicle mate, sounding remarkably similar to a Fox News pundit himself. “No one has any shame anymore, and we’re supposed to celebrate it!”
Now throw in a handgun and an unlikeable teenager named Roxy (Tara Lynne Barr) and our fate is sealed. Sadly, Roxy shares Frank’s passion for delivering lengthy lectures on the pathetic state of our culture — when she’s not raving about the super-coolness of Alice Cooper, that is. Of Cooper, she gushes, “Not only did he introduce macabre theatrics into rock, he also invented the power ballad with a little song called ‘Only Women Bleed.’”
Yes, that teenager onscreen just said “macabre theatrics.” Naturally, this should be a set up for the next bit of macabre theatrics, preferably a scene in which said teenager is drawn, quartered, and fed to a pack of wild dogs. Instead, though, we’re meant to savor a multi-state killing spree, one in which our heroic pair predictably track down the people who appear in the limp imitations of TV shows we saw at the beginning of the movie and, after the people from the TV shows say things that aren’t very surprising or insightful or eye-opening, they get shot. Frank and Roxy don’t feel any remorse or anything interesting like that, but they do talk a lot about stuff that sucks. For example, “people who use rock star as an adjective” suck, and also “people who use the term ‘edgy,’ ‘in your face,’ or ‘extreme’” and “people who say Namaste” and “people who misuse the term ‘literally.’”
This is what we get instead of dialogue and plot: An unintelligent hipster’s Twitter feed. And the more these two decry the aggressive stupidity and meanness of the whole world, the more they shoot people in the face and run over them in their cars and laugh and high-five about it.
And that would be ok, really, if there were even the slightest hint of a wiser perspective on the situation. In Goldthwait’s “World’s Greatest Dad,” for example, we’re aware that Lance (Robin Williams) is fooling himself throughout most of the movie, and that he’s in a lot of pain thanks to his self-deluded state. This understanding makes Lance’s odd choices entertaining. If someone – anyone — would just acknowledge the fact that Frank and Roxy are taking part in exactly the sort of knee-jerk, idiotic, violent behavior that they claim to loathe so deeply, that would at least be a start. But hinting at such a thing would take a tiny thimbleful of cleverness or thoughtfulness or wisdom, and sadly, “God Bless America” has not even the faintest trace of any of these. Instead, Bobcat Goldthwait has succeeded in creating a movie exactly as vile, hateful and stupid as the culture he decries so vehemently.
Sure, maybe that’s the point. But if you want to revel in the supreme crappiness of America, do yourself a favor and rent (or rewatch) Mike Judge’s “Idiocracy,” which is just like “God Bless America” except with laughs, imagination, and entertaining strangeness where the pointless violence, tedious lecturing, and chafing teenagers go. Otherwise, prepare to sit through an edgy, extreme and in-your-face regurgitation of everything you see on TV.