Tuesday, February 24, 2009

A Review of An American Carol

An American Carol

This movie didn't do well in the the theaters, and while it was well-reviewed on conservative websites, I was hesitant to see it. I'm not fond of movies that preach to the choir, even if I belong to that choir.

But, my wife sneaked it into our NetFlix queue, and now that I've seen it, I feel I must blog about my reaction.

This was a frustrating film. Like other not so great films like Van Helsing and The Mummy 3: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor. Overall, these movies aren't all that good (though they don't stink either), but there are enough moments in each movie to indicate that the filmmakers could have made an excellent movie. In Van Helsing, it's the underused Frankenstein's Monster character that shows the creators had some originality and that a good story was buried among all the overdone special effects and idiotic action.

In American Carol, there are several elements that show David Zucker still has some of that mojo that helped make Airplane and the Naked Gun movies so hilarious.

But first, if you haven't seen or heard of the movie, a brief discussion of the plot. The movie revolves around a Michael Moore-esque ("Michale Malone") filmmaker who wants to abolish the 4th of July. He is visited by the ghosts of JFK, General Patton, George Washington (and the Angel of Death). They convince him to love the 4th of July holiday and to see the good in the USA. There's also a side plot dealing with some terrorists that try to dupe Malone into giving them press passes to an "honor the troops" event.

And Zucker made a lot of excellent choices, that could have elevated it beyond a mere gross out comedy that would appeal only to die-hard conservatives. First, when Malone changes his mind about the 4th of July, he doesn't become an establishment conservative. It's made quite clear he still believes in universal health care, can't stand NASCAR, and will most likely still vote Democrat. Malone's problem isn't that he's liberal, it's that he sees only the bad in America. Early in the film, when he declares he must destroy America in order to save it, it's clear he means that he sees America as so flawed, the only real solution is to junk the whole thing and start all over again. He's not a terrorist supporter or a conspiracy theorist. He's merely misled and can't see the good in America.

Another good choice is the villain. The head terrorist plays his part completely straight, much like Ricardo Montalbon did in the first Naked Gun movie.

However, most of this is undone by all the other choices made. The frame story adds nothing to the tale, interrupts the narrative at annoying points, and isn't all that funny. Kelsey Grammar (as General Patton) spends more time lecturing Malone than doing anything funny. It's not that Grammar/Patton is the straight man in this comedy - instead, he's the humorless scold determined to let you know just why this isn't all that funny. He's out of place in a comedy film. Overall, the movie feels like a stern lecture with occasional jokes, rather than a comedy with a message.

However, there are two scenes that indicate Zucker could have made a very good movie:
1). Malone returns from film school to find his lady love dating some random Army guy, she declares "I just love a man in uniform." As Malone walks away, in the background one can see several "men in uniform" lined up outside her door (including a postal worker and a ninja). This kind of background gag was a key component in previous Zucker films, but there are far too few of them in this film.
2.) The initial scene that introduces the terrorists is hilarious in a "I can't believe he went there" way. Lines like "It's hard to find good suicide bombers. All the good ones are gone" cross lines that many in the entertainment would refuse to cross. The sheer amount of sacred cows slaughtered in that initial scene alone almost makes trudging through the rest of the movie worth it. Almost.

But paired with those two scenes are another two scenes that neatly encapsulate everything that is wrong with the movie:
1.) A bizarre musical number involving college professors comes across as a sermon rather than a funny moment, with General Patton lecturing the audience on the evils of the liberal indoctrination occurring on college campuses. The lyrics of the song are hard to make out, and while I sometimes find the liberal culture in academia stifling, it's nowhere near as bad as the movie makes it out to be.
2). Jon Voight's cameo as George Washington is genuinely moving. In fact, after this, I would pay good money to see Voight as Washington in any film or play. The entire scene is well staged and effectively portrayed. The moment when the doors open and the wreckage of the Twin Towers appears is perfectly timed for maximum emotional impact. But the scene is all wrong for the movie. It feels like someone edited in a few minutes from a serious drama about 9/11. When surrounded on either side by fart jokes, "turdhead", and innuendo about gay sex in a bathroom, an emotionally moving scene about 9/11 is not only out of place, it's just plain wrong. It is so jarring that after you spend a few minutes wondering what it was doing in the movie, you start thinking you've been manipulated.

I really can't recommend this movie (except for the first scene with the terrorists). Zucker set out to make a conservative comedy and failed. But I think his goal was his biggest mistake. He should have made a comedy that happened to be conservative, rather than a conservative movie with a few jokes.


Kent (MC) said...

I had wondered about seeing this one. Thanks for the review.

Friar Tuck said...

I have no desire to watch this.

Friar Tuck said...

Ivan...what is your dad's email?