God Bless America (MA15+)
Joel Murray, Tara Lynne Barr
DIRECTOR: BOBCAT GOLDTHWAIT
REVIEW: SHANNON HARVEY
You'll like this if you liked Office Space, Idiocracy, Natural Born Killers, Falling Down, American Dreamz, Network.
Remember those awful Police Academy movies and the little cop who spoke in funny broken voices?
He was played by Bobcat Goldthwait, and lucky for us, he's become a better writer-director than an actor. You should see his first film, World's Greatest Dad, with Robin Williams. It's perhaps the blackest comedy about parenting ever made.
Now comes God Bless America, his very black, very bloody and very savage comedy about the many ills of American society. Made on a shoestring budget, it stars Bill Murray's brother Joel Murray, an actor in his own right (he plays Fred Rumsen in Mad Men) as an ordinary, decent American driven to indecent actions.
Frank (Murray) is a good man but a lonely fellow who's sickened by what he sees on TV, from inane reality game shows to news reports of rape, murder, torture, dirty politicians and the failing economy. When Frank is diagnosed with a brain tumour and fired from his job on the same day, he cracks. He attempts suicide but instead decides to turn his gun on those he deems deserve it. He wants to go out with a bang and take out the trash on the way, starting with a spoilt brat pop-star and her rich enabling parents.
There's echoes of Michael Douglas in Falling Down here, but the gentle, insular Frank is more like Peter Finch from Network - only with a gun. He's an Everyman who's as mad as hell with the "dumbassification of America" as Public Enemy rapper Chuck D once put it. Yet Frank doesn't make any "mad as hell" style speeches. He just bottles up his anxieties until he pops.
The first half hour is confronting stuff, and it echoes similar points about the amusing ironies of capitalism and consumerism in films like Mike Judge's Office Space and Idiocracy. Goldthwait shows a real gift for writing darkly funny and savagely cutting dialogue about everything from junk food addiction to talk show trash and beyond.
When Frank teams up with a sassy teen who eggs him on (Tara Lynne Barr), the two go on an improbable killing spree.
That's where God Bless America goes more into Natural Born Killers territory as Frank morphs from suicidal to maniacal murderer who takes aim at TV news anchors, parking space hoggers, road ragers and movie theatre talkers. That makes him worse than the people he's killing, of course, and offers little more to say other than these modern irritants should be wiped off the map. Ouch, Bobcat. Ouch.
While that gives the narrative a rather stunted arc, there is something strangely gratifying in watching Frank and Roxy clean up the gene pool and get sweet revenge on the kind of people many of us have dreamt of giving a good slap to the face.
Newcomer Tara Lynne Barr makes for a bloodthirsty force of nature here, but Murray anchors the film with a troubled, tortured central performance. He somehow makes you like this very unlikeable guy, pity him and even root for him. Bill would be proud. It may lead to bigger and better things for the lesser-known Murray brother.
God Bless America takes a few good shots and hits plenty of marks. But by taking the low road, it never quite hits the bullseye.