Movie Review: God Bless America

Joel Murray as Frank in "God Bless America"

By Kimberly Gadette (doddleNEWS)

Bonnie and Clyde killed while robbing banks. Natural Born Killers‘ Mickey and Mallory killed for kicks. And now we get Frank and Roxy who kill because, well, they’re somewhat annoyed. While they hadn’t planned on taking out that many jerks, once you get into a habit, sometimes it can be damn near impossible to break. Like Angry Birds, for instance. Or angry trigger fingers.

God Bless America is Bobcat Goldthwait’s fourth feature – but calling it a film is a misnomer. It’s a soapbox, constructed as a solitary diatribe against today’s societally frenzied culture. Oddly enough, Goldthwait presents an ironic dichotomy: In his fervor to rail against multiple examples of media missteps, the filmmaker unintentionally delivers one of his own.

Mild-mannered Frank (Joel Murray) is having an amazing run of bad luck. His ex-wife is remarrying some young stud policeman, his daughter has turned into a screaming, prepubescent monster and now he’s lost his job. (He didn’t intend to; he only meant to be friendly toward the office’s receptionist, but she ran to his superior with accusations of harassment.) Piling it on, it seems that his ill-mannered doctor – who takes cell phone calls during patient consultations – has discovered that Frank probably has a fatal brain tumor. Which may be a good thing, considering Frank doesn’t have all that much to live for.

Between his threadbare life, his insomnia and the brainless babble emanating from the TV that can’t quite drown out the wailing baby next door, he’s one step away from the proverbial straw breaking the camel’s back. At first, he merely fantasizes about wasting those who give him the greatest grief, starting with the neighbors. But when a nasty teenage girl on a reality show screeches one time too many, his fantasies transform into a very real blood red. He’s soon joined by the whipsmart Roxy (Tara Lynne Barr), a high-schooler who shares his low tolerance for fools, and off they go, careening across the countryside, murdering anyone who even slightly annoys.

The film’s greatest fault lies in its dialogue, or lack thereof. Goldthwait still seems to be stuck in his prior life as a stand-up comedian; rather than allowing his characters to communicate with each other via actual conversation, the film is written as one lengthy monologue following another. Characters don’t speak but rather, just like their guns, they simply unload.

Goldthwait’s cinematic history doesn’t add up. After the large thud of 1991′s Shakes the Clown, he rallied somewhat with the off-kilter rom-com about secrets and bestiality in 2006′s Sleeping Dogs Lie. And with 2009′s World’s Greatest Dad, showcasing Robin Williams in a superb lead performance, it seemed that writer/director Goldthwait had finally found his path. But now, three years later, the regression is shocking. Perhaps for his next project, Goldthwait could write a screenplay about a filmmaker who looks as if he’s getting it together … only to stumble in clown shoes back to the very beginning.

Joel Murray as Frank, Tara Lynne Barr as Roxy in "God Bless America"

The actors can’t help but suffer. The unsung Murray – recognizable as the clueless policeman in The Artist, and as the forlorn Fred Rumsen in AMC’s Mad Men — can only do so much with the halting screenplay. As his young partner in crime, Lynne Barr has to contend with the preternaturally chipper Roxy who we never quite understand. The teen is incredibly smart – so smart, she can obviously put two and two together, knowing her actions will have dire consequences. Why, then, she joyously decides to slaughter strangers, throwing her young life away in the process, is seemingly without reason.

Speaking of no reasons, given that this shoot-a-thon targets bad-mannered miscreants who we bray about daily (such as those who take up two parking spaces, or talk in movie theaters, or promote bigotry), this unengaging project is one big retread. Hell, even the title is derivative.

When Frank turns his shotgun on a blowhard right-wing talk show host, the blowhard says, “If you kill me, you’ll just make me a martyr,” suggesting that many others will spring up in his place. Frank dispatches him anyway. Leaving this reviewer with a nagging thought: If the critical community kills this film, will God Bless America be made into a cinematic martyr? Allowing for untold others to spring up in its place?

God bless us, everyone.

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Rating on a scale of 5 opportunities to shoot one’s mouth off: 1.5

Release date: May 11, 2012 (ltd)
Written and Directed by: Bobcat Goldthwait
Cast: Joel Murray, Tara Lynne Barr, Melinda Page Hamilton, Mackenzie Brooke Smith
Rating: R
Running Time: 104 minutes

About Kimberly Gadette

Film critic Kimberly Gadette, born and raised in movie-centric L.A., believes celluloid may very well be a part of her DNA. Having received her BA and MFA from UCLA's School of Theater, Film & Television, she spent many of her formative years as an actress (film, tv, commercials, stage) before she literally changed perspective, finding a whole new POV from the other side of the camera. You can find her last 450+ reviews on Rotten Tomatoes (www.rottentomatoes.com/critic/kimberly-gadette/). Other than taking the occasional side trip to Cannes or Sundance, you can find her at the movies ... sitting in the dark as usual.

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