God Bless America
3 out of 4 Stars
If your only recollection of Bobcat Goldthwait is some bit parts in films or his few cable stand-up specials, you've probably come to the conclusion that he's little more than a marginally talented has-been. With "World's Greatest Dad" and "God Bless America," Goldthwait deserves the same kind of recognition lavished upon social satirists such as Mort Sahl, Lenny Bruce and George Carlin.
Expanding on the country's obsession with media and the cult of personality in "Dad," Goldthwait dovetails it to include the downwardly spiraling economy, the dumbing-down of the populace, bad manners, self-involvement and the fear of mortality into a scathing, rusted-razor jagged-edge bellowing of rage and resentment.
The biggest problem (at least on a commercial scale) with authentic cinematic sarcasm is that few people will get it and most of them will be extremely offended. Sarcasm isn't slightly angry comedy; it's focused finger-pointing that hits so close to the bone that you can't help but laugh -- or cringe. Not so much because it's funny but because it's so familiar.
In the space of a couple days, the mid-40ish Frank (Joel Murray) is fired (some might say unfairly) from his job, is dismissed by his daughter and ex-wife, told he has terminal cancer and must fight everything in him from slaughtering the mouth-breathing cretins with whom he shares common domestic walls.
Frank is a smart guy and by most accounts is not the kind of loose cannon that might snap at the slightest provocation. He's got a high tolerance for stupidity, poor decorum, misplaced political correctness and garish, gratingly obnoxious self-importance but when one too many straws lands in his basket, he finally succumbs.
Soon Frank commits first-degree murder and we -- if not agreeing with his actions -- can at least understand his motives and so can Roxy (Tara Lynne Barr). She's an ostracized teen (maybe by choice) who witnesses what he does and then goes out of her way to track him down and give him metaphorical high-fives. Spouting an abusive family life, Roxy wishes to join Frank on his yet unrealized mission; to rid the country of malcontents, mouth-breathers and zealots -- one sanctimonious bullet at a time.
Roxy is a reasonably attractive, but not a gorgeous girl whose misplaced idolization of Frank is more than obvious. This facet of the story could have degenerated into pure sleaze but Goldthwait only wants to suggest it, not give it credence. For the duration, Frank's relationship with Roxy is asexual, platonic and avuncular.
It's only after lots of hard-selling from Roxy does Frank accept her as an authentic contemporary. Goldthwait's approach to this facet of the story is particularly impressive; in an honor-among-thieves sort of way. Despite being a serial killer, Frank still possesses a distinct set of values and is a kind-of stand-up sort of guy.
The movie is going to hit the bull's-eye with a lot of people that fall squarely into that treasured area of turf known commonly as "swing voters." If the political landscape were a football field, they would occupy the space between the two 45-yard lines -- those being moderate democrats, moderate republicans or libertarians. Those that don't live and die with party dogma, can make up their own minds and have that unique ability to not be sheep.
That said the truly amazing thing about Goldthwait's movie is that it is purposefully apolitical. "Red" and "Blue" are never brought up either obviously or on the sly, but all of it is still percolating just below the surface and is never mistakable. An equal opportunity offender, Goldthwait takes aim at both ends of the extreme. His wrath isn't ideologically based; it's rooted in common sense, common courtesy, the Golden Rule and humility.
The movie looses much of its sting with the final scene which takes place on the set of a show obviously based on "American Idol." In addition to flying in the face of everything Goldthwait has already laid down, it descends into borderline farce. Considering what has preceded it, it's a huge letdown. It's not enough to kill the overall message but is certainly sufficient in robbing the film of its desired, full-throttle impact. (Magnolia)