Society has him up in firearms
By Michael O'Sullivan
Friday, May 11, 2012
The antihero of "God Bless America" - a potato-faced sad sack who goes on a killing spree when the crassness of contemporary society is too much to bear - seems to be a stand-in for writer-director Bobcat Goldthwait. Frank (Joel Murray) shoots anyone who annoys him: reality TV stars, people who talk during movies, right-wing blowhards, drivers who take up two parking spaces.
Goldthwait just films them.
And they are the funny parts of his movie. The comedian-turned-filmmaker ("World's Greatest Dad") doesn't have to push too hard to satirize such things as "American Idol," Fox News and the rampant American culture of entitlement and self-regard. His touch is lighter - and more deadly - than Frank's bullets.
If all Goldthwait wanted to do was to make fun of the ugly American, "God Bless America" could have been a successful weekly sketch comedy TV series. As it is, the movie runs out of steam after about a half an hour.
That's because the director isn't content to merely ridicule his targets; he also has to blow their brains out, again and again. The second person that Goldthwait - or, rather, his surrogate, Frank - shoots is a crying baby. That's not just risky cinema. It's wildly inappropriate. Fortunately, the movie presents the scene as Frank's fantasy. The rest of his victims are less imaginary, and probably more deserving.
That, in a nutshell, is the premise of "God Bless America," a belabored exercise in wish fulfillment that imagines what it would be like if you could murder everyone who "deserves" to die (including, of course, people who use "rock star" as an adjective). Admittedly, that's a potent vicarious thrill. It's just hard to sustain that one joke over the course of a feature film.
Goldthwait tries to pad the story by introducing the character Roxy (Tara Lynne Barr), a teenage girl who tags along with Frank and eggs him on. Frank and Roxy bond over their shared disdain for a culture that rewards what he calls "the shallowest, the dumbest, the meanest and the loudest."
There's also a hint of sexual energy between the overweight, middle-aged serial killer (who looks a little too much like Benny Hill for comfort) and his underage protege, but Frank quickly puts the kibosh on anything other than a friendship, sending Roxy home to her parents. Their relationship is neither creepy nor sweet, but it doesn't ultimately serve the story, either, which culminates in a "Network"-style screed delivered on live television by Frank, channeling Howard Beale.
It is a thoughtful and angry speech, enumerating everything that is wrong with us today: the cult of disposable celebrity; the rise of political idiocracy; and the acceptance of rudeness as a substitute for reason.
He's not off base. It's just that what he has to say isn't terribly funny, coming from a guy with an AK-47 in his hands. And it kills the movie as though it had been struck by a bullet from Frank's gun.
Contains obscenity and violence.