October 06, 2008

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While I'm Thinking About It

Movie Review: An American Carol. Thar be spoilers ahead!

It's like watching an hour and a half of right-wing talk radio. I kind of figured that going in, given that the only advertising for it that I know of has been on the right-wing talk radio, but it was from David Zucker, the man behind some of the best-known and most-quoted comedies this side of Mel Brooks. Surely it would have some good laughs, right?

It had some chuckles. And don't call me Shirley.

Framing sequences bug me. Don't waste time and mess around with setting up a character who's sole purpose is to tell the story. We know we're getting told a story; it's why we're watching in the first place! Except Princess Bride, because it was a clever way of adapting a fairly significant part of the book.

In this instance, we have Leslie Nielsen, in the same clueless Frank Drebin-esque character he's played in every movie that isn't Forbidden Planet, as Grandpa at a barbecue, telling his grandkids a story at their request so they don't have to eat his awful burgers, about a man who hated the Fourth of July so much he wanted to eliminated it: documentarian Michael Malone (Kevin Farley).

After accepting an award from left-wind activist group MooveAlong.org for his latest effort (a much smaller trophy than that given to the Best Feature Film winner), and following the announcement of his next target, Malone gets the Dickens treatment from the spirits of JFK, George S. Patton, George Washington, and the Angel of Death in the form of Trace Adkins. Can they convince the bloated filmmaker that the United States of America is worth celebrating before it's too late?

Meanwhile, a small band of terrorists are also manipulating Malone, using his desire to get into feature filmmaking in order to gain access to Madison Square Garden with the goal of blowing it up.

Humor is tricky, and never more so than when it's being attempted in the service of an Important Point(tm). You can't let the Important Point(tm) get in the way of the laughs, and that happens too often here. The result comes across as strident and preachy and, worst of all, not quite funny.

But there are some laughs to be had. The ACLU zombies. The scenes in Afghanistan. John O'Grady. The "Leni Reifenstahl Award for Documentary Excellence" (until they ruin it with over-explanation). The actors do a good job with what they're given: Kevin Farley is a walking Michael Moore caricature. Kelsey Grammer's Patton may or may not be anything like the real thing, but he's as watchable as ever. Chriss Anglin pretty much is JFK. Jon Voight as George Washington works well, though the scene is the oddest fit in the entire movie.

To sum it up in two sentences: Okay, we get it, you're conservative. Now go be funny.



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