I'm not trying to be a hero! I'M FIGHTING THE DRAGON!!

God Bless America

“Frank – this is more fun than killing yourself, right?”
“Uh… yeah, I guess.”

Bobcat Goldthwait’s latest directorial work is sort of a primal scream or a cathartic punching of a wall. Like SLEEPING DOGS LIE and WORLD’S GREATEST DAD it has an outrageous high concept premise, but it goes more where you expect than those ones do. It’s fun, though.

Joel Murray (who I didn’t realize was Bill Murray’s brother while watching this) plays Frank, a down-on-his-luck sadsack who’s sickened by the state of American culture but masochistically sits and watches the TV to stew about it. He’s divorced, his daughter is a spoiled little idiot who ignores him, he’s been shitcanned from his job for asking a secretary on a date, and now his doctor tells him he has a brain tumor. He decides to just get it over with and blow his head off, but while he’s preparing to do it he sees a show on TV that’s obviously based on MTV’s My Super Sweet 16, about rich parents throwing a lavish birthday party for their daughter Chloe (Maddie Hasson), and she complains that the car dad buys her isn’t the one she wanted.

So Frank decides that before he shoots himself he’s gonna drive across the country and find this girl from the reality show and shoot her. Then himself.

He does find Chloe and kill her, and her classmate Roxy (Tara Lynne Barr) witnesses it, but thinks it’s awesome. She follows him to his hotel room and convinces him that if he kills himself now it’ll seem like he was some pedophile stalker who thought he was in love with her. Instead they should go on a cross country spree together, killing all the people who piss them off.

This reminded me of two different Christian Slater movies: HE WAS A QUIET MAN  because of how it puts you into the unhealthy mindset of a put-upon cubicle worker who snaps and goes on a murder-suicide rampage, and HEATHERS because it has that same sort of cathartic sicko-wish-fulfillment appeal as it lashes out at things we all hate, including but not limited to My Super Sweet 16, Access Hollywood, The O’Reilly Factor, TMZ, people who say “bro,” Ed Hardy shirts, Real Housewives type shows, Jersey Shore, American Idol when they make fun of crazy people who they put on even though they can’t sing, morning news shows piling on the crazy people who can’t sing, people who think the other people on American Idol are really good, morning radio teams, people who think morning radio teams are having their first amendment rights violated, people who can’t stop texting or looking at their phones, Youtube culture, kids who would rather play games all day than go outside, kids who idolize idiots from reality TV, parents who buy little kids smart phones, the sexualizing of young girls through advertising and dolls, people who are against good health care, kids not appreciating anything in life unless there’s a picture or video taken to show it off to other people, energy drink advertisements, people who talk during movies… I might’ve missed some.

So you can see both the weakness and the joy of the movie right there. On one hand it’s easy targets, on the other hand it’s so many of them, so detailed, that it creates a pretty thorough portrait of what’s frustrating about modern living. It’s no IDIOCRACY, but it’s got moments. Most of the fake TV is not so much parodies as re-enactments with different names for copyright purposes. And it’s mostly pretty accurate. During the Sweet 16 show that sets him off there are viewer texts that scroll across the bottom of the screen saying things like “OMG Katy perry got a cat name kitty purry thats sooooooo kewl!” I wouldn’t be surprised it they just lifted that stuff from actual people.

The stupidity isn’t just on TV. It leaks into reality too. Frank can’t seem to find anyone that will have a conversation about anything other than American Idol or some fake political issue they heard on the radio, or who understands what the hell he’s talking about when he rants about it. Everyone seems to have an American flag in their house and Jesus in their Twitter handle but they don’t seem to have a thought in their head to indicate there’s any deeper understanding of what those things mean.

One time I had this idea for a mismatched buddy movie where a Paris Hilton or Lindsay Lohan type is in minimum security for drug possession or stealing a necklace or something and shortly before she’s gonna get out a scary ex-con who read about her on TMZ decides he needs to rescue her and busts her out. I thought it would be a funny version of a 48 HOURS type team but then I realized I didn’t know how to make it funny because the whole time it would seem like he was gonna rape her.

So congratulations to Goldthwait and Murray for doing this without it seeming like he was gonna rape her. They really go strong in the other direction by having her sort of make moves on him and be offended when he’s grossed out by it. She has a fantasy that they’re Bonnie and Clyde, but he seems to think it’s more a father-daughter vacation with serial murder.

Both of them are good and have a good chemistry. Now that I realize who Joel Murray is it’s kinda funny, he’s like the evil version of the sadsacks his brother plays now. I’m talking about Bill, not Brian Doyle, although obviously I like him too. Joel’s defeated demeanor and gallows humor make it go down a little easier when he launches into his bitter monologues about what’s wrong with the world.

They obviously have a kinship because of their shared anger towards the world, but Roxie being only 16 hers is less based in life experience and more in teen angst. To her it’s about resenting the popular kids at school and the things they like, her hatred of jocks and Fallout Boy and Glee. Frank draws the distinction between people who annoy the girl (“NASCAR fans, country fans, people who dress their babies in band t-shirts”) and “people who deserve to die.”

“I don’t want to kill someone just because you hate their movies,” he says. Good – Diablo Cody is safe. At one point Frank really offends Roxie by calling her “Juno,” which is funny because she kind of reminded me of a different Ellen Page character, the one she played in SUPER. She’s got a similar sort of adorable bloodlust. The best humor in the movie is the odd stuff like when Roxie’s gonna sit and watch him commit suicide in his hotel room, then suddenly she gets an idea, she makes him stop so she can zip a plastic suit cover around herself, just her face poking out. “Okay, go ahead,” she says.

And it’s the little awkward moments, like the doctor’s cell phone ringing when he’s telling Frank he has a brain tumor. He first ignores it, then apologizes, then takes the call. Or after they’ve killed most of the audience for talking during a movie (don’t worry, it’s a small audience, because it’s a documentary about the My Lai massacre) they thank the one survivor for not talking, and she doesn’t know what to say besides “You’re welcome.”

I’ve heard a couple good interviews with Goldthwait about the movie (my favorite is the one on The Q&A with Jeff Goldsmith because it’s the first time I’ve heard a guest on there that seems as annoyed with the host as I always am). He always uses this line about how people ask why Frank and Roxie never have any trouble with the police, and he says he didn’t want to keep cutting to Harvey Keitel pointing at a map. Good line, but I think he’s wrong – the movie would work better with that because 1. Keitel would probly be willing to get naked and do that Chewbacca growl thing and 2. the funniest characters in SHAKES THE CLOWN were the two policemen – they mostly sit in a patrol car, but they might as well be “Harvey Keitel pointing at a map.” 3. it would ground it in more of a reality and give it more drama. We’re all familiar with the road-trip-crime-spree trajectory, and it just feels wrong when people can go around in broad daylight committing high profile murders in a stolen red convertible sports car with no one ever spotting them or making any attempt to stop them or find out who they are.

And when they go after Chloe’s parents the same day their daughter was murdered they come into the house and they’re acting normal like they’re over it already. And there are no cops there. I know it’s not trying to be HEAT but surely it would be a stronger story with some very mild attempt at semi-somewhat-believability-ishness.

Also, let’s be honest, that particular teen-cell-phone-talker would not take her friends to the indie theater to see a documentary called THE GRAVES OF MY LAI. I mean somebody would be talking on their cell phone, I agree, but it wouldn’t be that girl.

But, you know, I like what he’s going for: an ultra-violent movie arguing against people being “just plain mean.” I sort of liked it.


VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.

This entry was posted on Tuesday, July 3rd, 2012 at 12:20 am and is filed under Comedy/Laffs, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

49 Responses to “God Bless America”

  1. From Love & War to Shameless Joel Murray has pretty much always played the same character, and its a character I like very much, so it was perfect that Goldtwait chose him to play Frank (who, according to an interview, IS Goldtwait). The movie itself reminded me (perhaps too much) of SUPER, but, yes, I liked it a lot. I see that a lot of people online find it too preachy to be really funny, but as we know some people have a strange sense of humor.

  2. I really liked this even though it was one of the weaker Goldthwait joints. It was pretty one note but he worked the hell out of that one note.

    Perhaps I wished it was a little bit more self-aware in how Frank and Roxy are working through their issues with the world and the media that saturates it. Bottom line is that they still are crazy people who are reacting to what is around them in the most violent way possible even though as annoying as those things are, they don’t deserve that kind of reaction.

    Don’t get me wrong. Liked it. It was fun. Loved the parodies and the satire of the concept. But it doesn’t say very much about the world and the media that we don’t already know.

  3. Super at least attempts to achieve something so much more than what you think is a very limited concept, and I think it does so very well. The ending to Super was tragic, heartbreaking, bittersweet and, ultimately, true to the story and character. There were layers and complexities to what could have been a character that was simply crazy.

    God Bless America doesn’t do much aside as serve as commentary. We get that every day. The movie is basically Goldthwait on an entertaining fantasy and wish-fulfillent rant.

  4. PS. I love Joel Murray as an actor. Yes, he tends to do similar characters but he does them so well just because he has that look.

    I cheered when his character showed up again to talk to Peggy about quitting in Mad Men.

  5. Knox Harrington

    July 3rd, 2012 at 4:39 am

    I do find it kinda strange that quite a few of these take-the-law-into-your-own-hands movies involve a teenage girl who worships these middle-aged guys. There’s obviously a strong sense of wish-fulfillment in these films, and it just makes me wonder where the hot teen girl sidekicks fit into that fantasy.

    Super had it, God Bless America had it, Kick-Ass had it to some extent (although it seems like the men in that film mostly worshipped her).

    I wonder if it’s something that Leon started.

  6. Knox Harrington

    July 3rd, 2012 at 4:40 am

    Yes, I’m saying that these filmmakers are all paedophiles.

  7. Wait a minute. Freddy Rumsen is Bill Murray’s brother? You learn something new everyday.

    The trailer to this movie looked somewhat cathartic, since I hate reality television with a passion (which is probably more energy than it deserves). But at the same time the trailer looked unaware that what these two people are doing is just as horrifying as one of those Real Housewives shows.

  8. Knox Harrington – young girls kicking ass is just cool I think, there doesn’t have to be anything sexual to it

    also, I can’t be the only one who sometimes wishes someone would murder all those annoying reality stars can I? I really need to see this movie since Bobcat has brought one of my fantasies to film

    but seriously, reality tv is a goddamned nightmare out of some sort of Orwellian dystopia, words can not describe the loathing I have for that genre and everyone involved with it

    I know there’s a certain action movie director who’s last name means a body of water that I wouldn’t be too sad if he met an unfortunate end

  9. Haven’t seen this one, but I wonder if a weakness to it might be that there’s no commentary on what the killers are doing. In Heathers, you get your wish fulfillment while having a look at how it’s not only ultimately wrong but can be glorified like the things that the characters wish to destroy, and may ultimately spiral out of control. (Super does this on a certain level, too.) from interviews, it seems Bobcat wasn’t going for anything deep, he just wants to share how much he hates the shit his characters go after, which is fine but maybe just leaves you empty feeling like when you eat a Snickers for lunch and tell yourself it’s somewhat okay ’cause there were peanuts in it and that’s protein…

    Anyway, Vern, you should now review Heathers and other mass killing spree movies.

  10. This movie is getting really positive reviews but it strikes me as coming from a totally wrong-headed, self-defeating angle. Bobcat seems to be arguing 1) People used to be much nicer and 2) People should all be nicer to each other.

    Well, 1’s a load of shit, empty nostalgia that’s easily dismissed by simply asking black people, gay people, other minorities, poor people, or women what their experiences have been like over the decades.

    And 2, well, obviously 2 is right. We should all be nicer to each other, that’s just decency. But I kind of have a hard time being lectured about how I should be nicer to other people when the guy is building his argument around SHOOTING INNOCENT PEOPLE.

    You don’t deserve to die for being a spoiled brat. Or for talking during a movie. Or for going on American Idol or watching American Idol. I hate that stuff too, but you know what I do? I don’t hang out with the spoiled brat. I tell the person talking to be quiet. I don’t watch American Idol. Deciding to pass judgment on the people who engage on those behaviors (violent judgment at that) is a much more problematic and troubling behavior than the things generating the response.

    Turn the fucking TV off and read a book, volunteer at a soup kitchen. Unless this movie ends with the cops unloading clips into the main characters’ heads, then I call bullshit.

  11. Knox: Actually SUPER was one of the rare occasions, where Ellen Page played an adult woman.

  12. I think it might be time to start feeling a little embarrassed about how attractive I find Ellen Page in SUPER.

  13. It also might be time to start feeling a little embarrassed about having never seen a single one of Bobcat’s directorial efforts, despite having occasionally quoted a few of his lines from BURGLAR for the past 25 years. Obviously, I should start with SHAKES THE CLOWN, but which of his more recent work should be next? Bear in mind that I have a low tolerance for cringe humor, so some of the scenes Vern described in SLEEPING DOGS LIE sound like my version of torture porn. Maybe I should go with one of the other ones first to get my bearings in Bobcat’s worldview before I dive into full-on dog-blowing.

    Speaking of BURGLAR (from the director of POLICE ACADEMY, hence the presence of Bobcat and the guy who played Harris), what was the deal with Whoopi Goldberg? She was clearly a very funny and charismatic performer that Hollywood had no idea what to do with. Normally, they just stick their actresses in love interest roles until they get an Oscar, but Whoopi, in addition to being too forceful a presence to play second fiddle, is not a particularly attractive nor feminine woman, so that was out. The best Hollywood could come up with was to make her the female Eddie Murphy and stick her in all these action-comedies. It just seems strange that they took this standup comedian who had broken large with an Oscar-nominated dramatic role and said, “That’s great! Can you shoot a gun?” But that’s Hollywood, I guess. Always trying to cram a square peg in a round hole.

  14. Knox Harrington

    July 3rd, 2012 at 9:25 am

    CJ, don’t be silly. Ellen’s breasts looked way too small in that superhero outfit for her to have played a grown-up.

  15. Agreed with most of the points raised by Brendan, Cassidy, & pegsman.  
    My ladyfriend & I enjoyed this one, and we agree with the protagonists’ politics except for their affection for guns & violence, but we found it to be preachy & didactic, which is the whole point of the script of course, so that’s fine, except it doesn’t carry a strong message or convey a compelling narrative for the whole feature length duration.

    And seriously, they intercepted that Sean Hannity/Bill O’Reilly character in the park with no effort, no security resistance, no planning.  That’s either lazy writing/direction or it’s just a consequence & function of the non-literalness of this dreamlike morality tale’s script.  I won’t complain about how easily they bust into American Superstarz with guns, because that’s obviously a metaphorical climax.  Coulda been sharper action choreography & filmatism, though.  

    Anyway, I sorta liked it, especially seeing the baby get blasted point blank with a shotgun, but this was playing at ActionFest simultaneously with EASTERN CONDORS and I probly shoulda seen that instead.  Fuck.  

  16. I guess no one else liked Jumping Jack Flash? And god only knows what Whoopi was thinking when she decided Theodore Rex was a poitive step in her career after doing Sister Act 1 and 2 and Ghost.

    Start with World’s Greatest Dad, Majestyk. Yes, it stars Robin Williams. But it’s one of his good ones and Bobcat goes all the way with the concept.

  17. Mr. Majestyk, if you want to have your Ellen Page crush cranked up to 11, see the new Woody Allen, TO ROME WITH LOVE.

    Her role is incredibly sexual. Good, fun movie, too.

  18. I understand that’s an anthology film, right? And Alec Baldwin is also in Page’s segment? So there’s no reason for me to watch the rest of it?

    Cassidy: I actually like all of Whoopi’s action-comedies, especially FATAL BEAUTY, which is just a weirdly brutal movie with another great psycho performance from my second favorite That Guy, Brad Dourif. I was just remarking on how strange it was that all of Whoopi’s early vehicles were about her getting into shootouts and car chases, when that wasn’t really what she got famous for.

  19. Don’t knock Rex, Cassidy, Whoopi’s ass looked so good in those leather pants that I managed to sit through the whole movie!

  20. That is probably the most disturbing thing that has been said on these forums, pegsman.

  21. More disturbing than the guy who fucked an apple?

    Seriously, how is that possible? The apple is not one of your sexier fruits.

  22. When I got up this morning I didn’t foresee the possibility that Mr. Majestyk would make me consider watching some Whoopi Goldberg movies.

  23. I was just as surprised as you were, Vern.

    I’d start with FATAL BEAUTY. It’s the one that leans the heaviest on the action side of the action-comedy divide. Not only is Sam Elliot the love interest (Kinda, anyway. Whoopi always had these almost-romances with white dudes in her early movies, but everybody was too skittish about interracial relationships to do more than allude to it), but it was directed by CHILD’S PLAY director Tom Holland, which is how Dourif landed the Chucky gig. So it’s a pretty historic movie in my opinion.

  24. Rehydrated Dehydrated Pirate Paul

    July 3rd, 2012 at 12:30 pm

    Saw it, agreed with Cassidy. It continually bugged me that the two main characters seemed to be the only ones in the whole world (apart from the girl who survives the cinema massacre and “gets it” afterwards – that was probably the best scene in the movie) who saw how dumb this whole thing was. Yeah, put people together and they can be… annoying. But isn’t that a little extreme? It blunted the point somewhat.

    But I enjoyed the movie, it’s a nice bit of wish-fulfilment. I just think it could’ve been a bit more than it was.

  25. Wow, Tom Holland huh? Mr. M, I might just have to check that out!

  26. You should! It’s not a great movie by any means, but I keep coming back to it every few years for reasons I don’t quite understand. I would recommend getting the edition I have, which is packaged with RUNNING SCARED (the Billy Crystal one, not the Paul Walker one), making it a perfect double feature of action-comedies starring future COMIC RELIEF hosts. If only Robin Williams had played an eccentrically dressed vice cop for, say, John Badham circa 1986, we’d have the hat trick.

  27. “You don’t deserve to die for being a spoiled brat. Or for talking during a movie. Or for going on American Idol or watching American Idol. I hate that stuff too, but you know what I do? I don’t hang out with the spoiled brat. I tell the person talking to be quiet. I don’t watch American Idol. Deciding to pass judgment on the people who engage on those behaviors (violent judgment at that) is a much more problematic and troubling behavior than the things generating the response.”

    you do realize it’s satire right?

  28. Cassidy: I love JUMPING JACK FLASH. It suffers a little from sloppy directing, but it’s still fun to watch. And I love how they make the old cliche, of making the main characters say everything that she types in the computer out loud plausible. (They just establish from the beginning, that Whoopie constantly talks to herself. They don’t explain why. It’s just a character trait, but it helps to make her chats look less ridiculous.)

  29. And then once she’s heard that Jack speaks like Jonathan Pryce, she hears his voice when he types to get around her having to read both parts of the conversation to herself.

    If anyone has come up with a better way to make computering interesting onscreen without resorting to LAWNMOWER MAN-style virtual reality, I haven’t seen it.

  30. That is the Goldsmith Q&A I’ve always wanted to hear. Thank you.

  31. caruso_stalker217

    July 3rd, 2012 at 5:35 pm

    Mr. Majestyk:

    In my defense, it was a fairly attractive apple.

  32. Griff- And what, exactly, is the satirical point? What is the audience to take away?

  33. Jumping Jack Flash is a good one to start with. Do not watch Telephone, though.

  34. Brendan – I guess the point is that so many things about the modern day are so fucking annoying that they make you want to start shooting some mother fuckers

  35. caruso:

    You should have said, “What I meant was I fucked Fiona Apple once.”

    Then you would encounter appreciative nods, regardless of truthiness.

  36. but doesn’t every teenage guy try to fuck strange things at some point? I remember fucking a contraption made out of a plastic bag, baby oil and a hand towel once that I got the instructions on how to build from the internet…

    not one of my prouder moments…

  37. The real missed opportunity is that Frank and Roxy never realized that they are becoming the self-righteous judgmental people they hate. Complainers should be on Frank’s list too and he spends the whole movie complaining about what annoys him. He may be right but the act itself is bitchy.

  38. Griff:

    I remember as a teenager myself and a friend scraping the inside of a couple of dozen banana skins and heating the mush in a microwave then burning it and inhaling the vapors because we heard we could get high off of it.

    We’ve all been there.

    http://www.straightdope.com/columns/read/2389/will-smoking-banana-peels-get-you-high

  39. Brendan, I think you’re supposed to take away what you normally take away from a stand up show.

  40. All of those early Whoopi movies were violent because Hollywierd was trying hard to make her the female Eddie Murphy. the Fatal Beauty poster tells the tale on that one.The fucking score was by Harold Faltermeyer of Beverly Hills cop fame. It’s actually not that bad of a movie of a movie, but 80’s to the core.

  41. Crap, now I have to make it through all the Whoopi movies. And I just finished all the POLICE ACADEMYs.

    I actually really liked her ’90s movie THE ASSOCIATE. That was a really smart comedy with a powerful message about sexism in the business world.

  42. BR Baraka – oh, I was never the type of the guy to come up with creative ways to get high, just creative ways to get off

  43. I also kind of liked Burglar as well even though the tone of the movie could have been fine tuned. I am a fan of Lawrence Block’s novels but it didn’t translate too well even though it hewed very closely to a traditional cat and mouse/whodunnit 80s movie plot.

  44. Weird connection here: Burglar was directed by the director of the first Police Academy movie. So this all fits into some odd chain. Police Academy is the Kevin Bacon of films.

  45. I can’t believe I didn’t realize that BURGLAR was an adaptation of Laurence Block’s BURGLAR novels. Maybe because I always pictured Bernie to be more of a David Straithairn type, not a Whoopi Goldberg type.

  46. Jareth Cutestory

    July 4th, 2012 at 7:43 am

    I’m an unashamed fan of Whoopi Goldberg, but, man, the crappy movies I’ve sat through because of that woman. Thankfully, even the worst ones are usually tolerable because of her charisma.

    FATAL BEAUTY overlaps nicely with so much of what we talk about on this web sight. It’s also genuinely sleazy in a way that only certain 1980s movies like COBRA can be.

    I tend to agree with the general assessment that no one really knew what to kind of vehicle to put her in. Often she found herself in films with some serious potential but that ultimately shied away from the most challenging aspects of the material in favor of easy feel-good resolutions. CORRINA CORRINA and BOYS ON THE SIDE, for example.

    A buddy insists that her work on STAR TREK is the only acting on the show that came close to Piccard’s awesomeness, but I haven’t seen enough of that show to tell.

  47. Talking about 80’s sleaze. I saw I, THE JURY last night. Hadn’t seen it in about 25 years, but it was just as bloody violent, horribly jazz scored and pubic hair infested as I remembered it. Marvelous!

  48. “I, The Jury”! So many genuinely good elements muffed. Would love to read Vern’s impressions – see if it should be watched again in a different frame of mind.

    Actually, on the Mike Hammer tip, putting in a request for “Kiss Me Deadly” write-up.

  49. So um, did anyone see episode 1 of American Gods? And do you think Joel Murray automatically gets a lifetime award for best combined sex/body-horror/Freudian-Antibirth scene?

    Not sure if I’m fully on board for the series yet, but there’s enough weird imagery and things I’ve never seen before to keep me intrigued for a while. Bryan Fuller really seems to have taken a four by two and is swinging for the outer perimeters with this one.

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