God Bless America
Directed by: Bobcat Goldthwait Cast: Joel Murray, Tara Lynne Barr Running Time: 1 hr 40 mins Rating: R Release Date: May 11, 2012 (Chicago)
PLOT: A divorced father and bored employee with a medical death sentence (Murray) decides to go on a rampage and kill people who are not nice. He is joined by a high school girl named Roxy (Barr).
WHO'S IT FOR?: Liberal or conservative, a lover of reality TV show stars or not, this very violent comedy is for viewers who can take a joke.
Sometime between the signing of the Declaration of Independence and the ascendancy of reality TV stars whose main talent is self-marketing, an overwhelming amount of Americans have made selfish interpretations of what the pursuit of happiness is meant to achieve. This is the case at least in the eyes of writer/director Bobcat Goldthwait as preaching from his manifesto God Bless America, a hit-and-miss charcoal black comedy of serial killer violence that expresses anger towards a cruel and stupid civilization with winding monologues and shocking slayings. Whereas every generation has probably wondered whether those following it are ruining humanity for everyone else, Goldthwait has decided that cruelness is at an all-time high, and that society is in need of someone to wipe out these negative forces who have highly contributed to its moral decay.
Cast as the mouthpiece for Goldthwait’s teeth-gnashing anger is the unassuming Joel Murray, who plays a divorced and middle-aged American man named Frank living in an amoral vacuum. When he turns on the TV, he can not escape freak show idiocy, as his channel surfing brings upon an onslaught of grotesque reality TV imagery (including an American Idol parody called American Superstarz) followed by sensationalistic news commentators who make immediate comparisons of President Obama to Adolf Hitler.
Frank’s own interactions with the world are no less of a horror show. After a harmless gesture of sending flowers to a co-worker is considered to be harassment, he is fired from his office job. When Frank learns that he has a nearly inoperable brain tumor, he is told this by a disinterested doctor (Dan Spencer), who is more concerned with his cell phone than the gravity of such bad news. To make things worse, a phone call to his ex-wife and daughter reveals that the young girl has gained a monopoly of bratty demands over her mother.
With no hope left for niceness in humanity, Frank decides to kill himself while watching a show very similar to MTV’s popular rich girl birthday party series My Super Sweet 16. During this moment he has an epiphany, and decides instead to first kill the girl whining on screen named Chloe (Maddie Hasson) who is seen complaining to her parents about getting the wrong car as a present. After Frank completes this killing by shooting Chloe in a parking lot, he is talked out of completing his suicidal inclinations by a classmate of Chloe’s named Roxy (Tara Lynne Barr). An instant admirer of Frank’s attitude, she convinces him that there are more imbeciles to be killed in the world.
What ensues is a killing spree in the vein of Joel Schumacher’s irritated underdog shoot ‘em up Falling Down (1993) with Frank armed with both weapons and word. In between Frank’s calculated diatribes about Lindsay Lohan, cell phones, and many more topics, the platonic duo embark on a carousal of (police investigation-less) shootings that leave no jerk unpunished. While trying to watch a documentary on the 1968 My Lai massacre in a movie theater, they shoot talkative audience members; their actions accompanied by Betty Hutton’s rollicking 1951 big band tune "It's Oh So Quiet." Other demographics attacked in shocking comedic moments vary from Westboro Baptist Church-like protestors, to people that carelessly take up two parking spaces.
Goldtwait’s wild script receives strong support from its two lead performances, which play well against character type. Murray maintains his character’s average man likeability, even when he shocks viewers with his potential for cold-blooded violence. Barr succeeds in providing a new interpretation of the fast-talking and violent schoolgirl, standing somewhere uniquely between Chloë Grace Moretz’s Hit-Girl character from Kick-Ass (2010) and Ellen Page’s Juno from the Jason Reitman film (2007) of the same name.
While the action of God Bless America might evoke the loud chaos of death metal music, Goldthwait doesn’t ultimately feel this sentiment towards Frank’s mission. There is a striking sense of melancholy underneath this story, as confirmed by his choice of music, which includes picking tough guy acoustic ballad "I Never Cry" by heavy metal icon Alice Cooper to play over the closing credits. Killings in the film are not met with tunes of triumph, but instead composer Matt Kollar’s score recalls both Carl Orff and solemn Americana hymns written during earlier and perhaps more civilized times in America.
A highly violent movie that ultimately asks people to be nice, God Bless America finds its most constructive criticism during the impassioned monologues that Murray delivers with magnetic ferocity. Though its guns may gain the film its viewers, the well-constructed statements that Goldthwait makes through Frank are bound to leave a larger impression concerning the topic of the importance of respect, especially when Frank asks out loud, "Why have a civilization anymore if we are no longer interested in being civilized?"
Sensationalistic in itself, Goldthwait’s concept is flawed by its simple-minded means of catharsis. Lacking depth to its violence, the film’s action often doesn’t challenge viewers beyond the popular 90s bumper sticker sentiment, "Mean People Suck." Goldthwait’s film aims to fulfill the anger inside Americans concerning those who rule the attention of pop culture with ugly fists, but does not fully accept (until a defeatist conclusion that marries "American Idol" to Bonnie and Clyde ) that such disposable deities use attention (whether positive or violently negative) as their life-source. To slay these beasts, one must simply stop providing them such. Even by killing them gruesomely with surface-level violence in his story, Goldthwait is only making these characters of pop culture stronger.
While its name-drops and abrupt violence can be amusing or even quite funny, God Bless America continuously loses meaningful credibility as it succumbs to being what Frank hates – a piece of the "Oh No, You Didn’t Say That!" shock jock mentality that makes viewers laugh with disbelief at such cruelness. As the kill count of God Bless America rises, it becomes clear that this violent fable which turns soapbox into sniper post would not be possible were its humor not enabled by an amoral society it is attempting to criticize.
Final Score: 5/10