Tuesday, December 1, 2009

'An American Carol' is a Hollywood embarrassment

An American Carol (2008)
Starring: Kevin Farley, Kelsey Grammer, Robert Davi, Geoffrey Arend, Serdar Kalsin, Leslie Nielsen, Chriss Anglin, Trace Adkins, Bill O'Reilly and Jon Voigt
Director: David Zucker
Rating: Two of Ten Stars

Left-wing, America-hating, self-absorbed filmmaker Michael Malone (Farrell) stats a movement to outlaw the Fourth of July. This is one insane liberal act too many, and he attracts the attention of Taliban terrorist leader Aziz (Davi) and his sidekicks (Arend and Kalsin), who under the pretense of funding Malone's first feature film use him to stage a massive Fourth of July suicide bombing attack, and of the spirits of great American leaders General George S. Patton (Grammer), George Washington (Voigt) and John F. Kennedy (Anglin) visit him in dreams in an attempt to change his heart toward love of his country.

I try to keep politics out of my reviews, but any regular readers have probably figured out that I lead to the right politically. Long-time readers have been able to discern that I have nothing but contempt for Michael Moore's films, but that I am very fond of some of the movies David Zucker has been involved with and the sort of insane comedy they've featured. It should therefore be obvious that I went in to the theater expecting to like "An American Carol", a movie that was going to mock Michael Moore and other fanatical Hollywood Lefties while also spoofing a great literary work. It seemed like a movie that couldn't go wrong.

Well, it did.

I laughed less during "An American Carol" than I did during "Disaster Movie". This film is more intelligent and better acted than the former, but it's not as funny. It's as if they made a comedy but forgot to include jokes.

They also seemed to forget to take their script past its first draft, or at least make an attempt at making it coherent. The structure of the film has an eccentric old man (played by Leslie Nielsen) at a Fourth of July picnic telling a "Christmas Carol"-type story of an anti-America fllmmaker haunted by both ghosts and terrorists, making it a fiction being spun by an unreliable narrator within a fiction. This makes the points raised by the movie very easy to dismiss, and they become even easier to dismiss because the film can't seem to keep it's narrative straight, nor do the writers manage to bring Michael Malone back to the real world at the end of the story or even properly bookend the film with the old man wrapping up his narrative with the kids.

The final five minutes, which should serve as the reinforcement of the film's message--that it's ignroance at best and insanity at worst, and the height of ingratitude to those who came before us for Americans to tear down America instead of working to support it and make it better--instead see a complete collapse of the film's already flimsy narrative structure.

The flaws in the story flow become fully exposed and the final scene has Michael Malone walking off with the ghost of General Patton while bantering. Unlike Scrooge, who had a change of heart and started using his wealth and power for good once he returned firmly to the real world, Malone instead seems to remain in the dreamworld of truth-revealing ghosts, making his supposed transformation meaningless. (Part of me wonders if the fact the poor story structure undermines the movie is a symptom lack of the filmmakers being a little less "brave" in their bucking of the Hollywood ultra-liberal, fundamentally anti-America culture.)

"An American Carol" is not without its moments, though. The scenes with the Taliban terrorists (both in and out of Afghanistan) are very funny, as is an extended bit with ACLU zombies (although Dennis Hopper playing a gun-toting judge is what truly makes that sequence). Trace Adkins also makes a fine Spirit of Death (and gives Kevin Farley the opportunity to deliver one of his funniest lines in the whole movie).

In fact, everyone appearing in this film does such an excellent job that it's a shame they aren't supported by a better script. Farley is hilarious as a cartoonish version of Michael Moore; Kelsey Grammer is very, very funny as an appropriately violent George S. Patton ("what's with the slapping?" asks Michael Malone after getting clocked for the umpteenth time, "it's my trademark" replies Patton); Robert Davi gives a performance that's perfectly balanced between menance and mirth as the only remotely intelligent person in the Taliban; and even Bill O'Reilly is funny in scenes where he's making fun of himself.

In an article on the "L.A. Times" website the day the film opened, David Zucker was quoted as saying the producers chose not to have the film screened for critics because he felt it wouldn't get a fair shake because of its political message and the targets it lampooned. Some of the early commentary I saw support his claim to a small extent, but, having sat through "An American Carol", I don't think Mr. Zucker was being completely genuine.

The film wasn't screened for critics because it isn't very good. On the Friday following the film's opening, I heard Rush Limbaugh praising the film's script as being very funny and encouraging people to go see it. He wanted the film to be financially successful, so more comedies with a conversative bent would be made. I don't know what script Limbaugh was reading, but it couldn't possibly have been the one for the movie I watched.

(Don't bother PM'ing or emailing me about how it shows that the right-wing pundits can't be trusted (like some folks did when I originally published this review, despite this statement being in it). The Lefties spewed the same sort of lies about John Singleton's failed comedy "Silver City" a few years back, including some supposedly respectable critics. The right and the left are equally guilty about deceiving the public to boost the box office for films they feel are "important.")

"An American Carol" has the same problem that farces of a similar nature have had in recent years... no one bothered to write a decent script for it. Its humor is more intelligent that what you'll find in "Disaster Movie", but there's less of it and the script is just as sloppy and lazily done. Like the writers of "Disaster Movie" (and similar recent efforts) who felt random pop culture references could stand in for craftsmanship in the writing, the filmmakers here assumed the politics on display would be all that would be needed to carry the film.

It's a shame that Zucker and the other filmmakers wasted the talent assembled on such a crappy effort. It's an even bigger shame that the film's weak showing at the box office will be taken as proof that the public isn't interested in seeing movies that carry a pro-America message. (Because that's the message the film industry establishment and analysts will want to take away from this.)

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