Thursday, April 26, 2012

God Bless America - Digital Download Review


Theatrical Release Date: May 11, 2012

Movies with a blatant message attached to them aren't usually very good. They are often weighed down by a need to get that message across at the cost of good story telling and character development. God Bless America is yet another in a long line of cinematic victims to succumb to that dangerous pitfall.

Review Vital Stats:
Service: Xbox Zune Marketplace
Download Type: Rental
Picture Quality: HD

Loves: Movies about citizens upset with society
Likes: Some of the pop culture references
Neutral: The inclusion of a teenage girl for shock value
Hates: That this movie did not live up to its potential
See: Falling Down instead

When I first saw the trailer for director Bobcat Goldthwait's new film God Bless America I was instantly struck with a strong sense of deja vu. I had seen this movie before...almost 20 years ago to be exact. But that movie was called Falling Down and starred Michael Douglas as a man driven to the brink by the harsh reality that is America. While that film drew on more basic society generalities about race, wealth and economics, God Bless America aims to target pop culture and those responsible for sacrificing common human decency for some cheap thrills and a lot of ratings. Despite a fine performance from its lead actor and some rather insightful commentary on the current state of the entertainment world, I think it is safe to say that the film's reach far outweighs its grasp in almost every way possible.

Frank (Joel Murray) is having a rough day. Between his neighbor's kid not shutting up, being blocked into his parking spot, getting fired from his 10 year plus job for sexual harassment, discovering his daughter's low opinion of him and being told that he has an inoperable tumor in his head, he has certainly seen better days. Watching the crap that litters our televisions every night doesn't help the situation either and as Frank flips from channel to channel seeing all the depraved acts that get passed off as entertainment anymore he gets filled with this overwhelming sense to go out and murder every single one of them in an attempt to put things right again before his days are over.

Frank is having doubts about life.

This is a somewhat frustrating movie to sit through. I agree almost entirely with what it has to say about modern day American society though. This is a very timely movie, it has come at the exact right moment where we are being inundated with these horrible reality TV shows and their resulting stranglehold on the entertainment world. I personally cannot stand reality television and believe it to be one of the worst crimes against humanity since the invention of the cellular phone (yeah, I'm one of THOSE people). It's not that I like to go against the grain of what's popular on purpose, it's just the people who latch on to these fads are some of the most mentally vacant human beings to populate our planet of all time. Yes, I dislike shows like Dancing with the Stars and American Idol, but I absolutely loath those people who see those shows as real entertainment instead of for the bile they truly are.

In accordance with full disclosure and trying my best to not to appear as a hypocrite I will say that yes, I have partook in the occasional reality show from time to time (I was a HUGE Survivor fan for about a minute), but I am in that very small niche of viewers who watch that stuff ironically, as in not for one instant thinking what I am watching is entertaining for what it is, but instead for its reflection on how brain dead most of its core audience is for getting "caught up" in these "real" people's lives. That is where a film like God Bless America really appealed to me, that most primal need to see justice delivered to those who can't see themselves and the shows they help propagate as this horrible affliction on our culture. I would like nothing more than to stand in front of a monitor telling millions of Dancing with the Stars fans to go shove it and explain to them how the world is being crushed under the weight of all this trash that is littering our television sets each night.

Roxy is intrigued by Frank's new hobby.

So this movie felt tailor made for someone like me, someone who harbors a lot of animosity towards those poor souls (reality TV fans) and how their entertainment just makes me sad to be an American, and its main character Frank is a sort of amalgamation of all my different thoughts and feelings on the stupidity of our current culture. It wasn't all the crap being thrown at Frank such as his troubles with his daughter and workplace issues that hooked me, it was his attitude. There is a scene early on where he is asked whether or not he saw the latest episode of American Superstar and if he thought the mentally challenged kid they had on there was funny or not. His answer goes far beyond the initial question where he proceeds to go into this very long rant about how American has devolved into some kind of Neo-Roman empire where we like to put fools up on a pedestal and laugh at them or cheer on our reality television heroes. That speech and Frank's not so subtle way of dealing with those issues he raises is what really connected with me.

Unfortunately it doesn't take too long before things start to go south from there which quite honestly is shocking to me. This felt like a sure bet, a dark comedy whose target is anything and everything wrong with the entertainment industry today, but it somehow managed to screw up such a simple subject. The first fly in the ointment is the introduction of Roxy (Tara Lynne Barr) into the mix. This is one of those times where I think I will lose a lot of people but I gotta be honest here, she ruined a lot of this film for me. The blatant way that she is shoehorned into the film just reeks of capitalizing off the recent fad from films such as Kick-Ass and Super. Now granted, those aren't exactly financially successful examples but they are popular examples of how Hollywood takes something that has worked for other films and tries to recycle it...which I'm fine with, if it is done well. There was no need for Roxy to be in this movie, she adds absolutely zero to the equation and quite frankly she sticks out like a sore thumb.

Nothing beats some down time after a few murders.

I got the feeling numerous times that I was supposed to be in shock and awe over her antics. "Oh look how she uses a lot of dirty words", "Oh my gosh, did she really just say that?", "Did she just stab a woman and laugh in glee over it? How dare they!". I'm not saying those other films I referenced weren't going for the same thing but they at least had the common decency to have the presence of their similar characters make some sort of sense. The way Roxy forces herself into Frank's life made no sense. She witnesses him kill someone and thinks it was cool so she confronts him and convinces him to go out and kill more people. Why is she so bloodthirsty? Why did she instantly connect and trust Frank whom she never really met? Who is she? Where does she come from? We literally learn nothing about her during the course of the film. She is an enigma that is never answered. She is there to spout out dirty words, act psychopathic and kill lots of people. Why? Because she is a teenage girl and it is shocking to see her do such depraved acts.

The film's issues go way beyond Roxy though. Another problem is the distinct lack of danger for our "heroes". Frank and Roxy go on a killing spree, they never hide their identities and their faces are plastered all over TV from security cameras and eye witnesses. But somehow they are never at risk of being caught or recognized anywhere they go. After killing a number of people inside a movie theater for not observing the golden rule of silence they immediately are out eating in public without a care in the world. Heck, they are even approached by THE ONLY police officer in the entire movie for sleeping in their car over night where the only tension is whether or not the officer believes Frank is related to Roxy, NOT whether or not they will be recognized for killing half a dozen people the day before. This lack of inherent danger not only detracts from the realism of their situation but also makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. How is it that no one recognizes them after they murder dozens of people all across the country?

Roxy is a little mentally unbalanced.

That also feeds into another big problem with the film which its lack of direction or any real goal for our characters. What does Frank hope to achieve by the end of all this? What does Roxy want out of it? The first person Frank kills is due to a lot of pent up frustration but the subsequent kills are all brought on by Roxy coaxing him into it. So what keeps him going? Is he having fun? I don't think he is enjoying it too much, at least not nearly as much as the mentally unstable Roxy who celebrates each and every kill. Speaking of that, there is no build up to anything either. By that I mean all they do is kill people. There is nothing else, no grand scheme. Sure it is fun watching them pick off all these inconsiderate assholes and celebrity jerkoffs but the stakes are never upped. The first person that is knocked off is a prissy spoiled teenage girl and other than increasing the body count it never goes any further than that. What made the film Falling Down so engaging throughout was this constant threat of him getting caught and how his criminal acts progressively got worse to the point of you never knowing what he would do next. God Bless America is completely devoid of any such pressure or surprises to the point of it feeling very safe and bland in comparison.

Now I don't want to sound completely negative towards the film. I mean yes, it certainly has its issues but it also has some good points as well, mostly pertaining to Frank. As a character I like him, he may not be the most fleshed out character in cinema history but he has this swagger to him that evokes a sense of sympathy for his cause regardless of whether or not you believe he should or shouldn't be doing what he does. He has a set of values and rules that make him more of a human being than just some psychopath with a grudge. Some of the murder sprees are fun too in their own way. I wager to bet that most people will find themselves quietly applauding a lot of his actions and cracking a grin each time he guns down a celebrity wannabe. There is certainly some fun moments in the film, they just needed to have more context and more danger. Suffice to say that even with the films many problems that I think there is a good chance you will get a mild amount of enjoyment from the carnage Frank and Roxy unleash on America even if it never comes together in a very satisfying whole.

Never before have people felt so safe while on a killing spree.

Its a dam shame this turned out as limp as it did because the filmmakers clearly had their heart in the right place. The message of the film is a timely one and something that needs to be explored, this just isn't the movie to do it sadly. The film has yet to hit theaters and is currently available via pre-theatrical digital download for a premium fee ($15) which makes it somewhat easy to recommend due to the fact that you wouldn't have to exert yourself too much to see it. But even still I would suggest just holding off and waiting for it to show up on the Netflix Instant Stream service (just like all other Magnet releases). I truly believe that if you are just looking for something to pass the time and come across it one day for streaming that you might actually find some limited enjoyment from it. If that comes off sounding a bit harsh then so be it, I actually spent that fifteen dollars on it and felt ripped off and wouldn't want it on my conscious that I invited others to go down that same road.

God Bless America is a movie with a lot to say that doesn't really know how best to go about saying it and because of that it feels like more of a wasted opportunity than anything else. I highly suggest checking out the far superior film Falling Down if you have never seen it before because it covers much of the same ground this film does and does it much better. But if you insist on seeing this one I suggest that you wait for a bit and...




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