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God Bless America  (2012)
2 Stars
Directed by Bobcat Goldtwait.
Cast: Joel Murray, Tara Lynne Barr, Mackenzie Brooke Smith, Melinda Page Hamilton, Rich McDonald, Maddie Hasson, Larry Miller, Travis Wester, Lauren Phillips, Aris Alvarado, Regan Burns, Guerrin Gardner.
2012 – 100 minutes
Rated: Rated R (for strong violence and language including some sexual sequences).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, May 7, 2012.
Who might have guessed that a mid-range comic whose heyday was in the late-'80s/early-'90s would turn out to have such a sharp, merciless vision as a filmmaker? With 2009's underseen dark satire "World's Greatest Dad" (starring Robin Williams as a father who decides to rewrite his awful teenage son's life by doctoring his accidental death into a suicide), Bobcat Goldthwait single-handedly turned around his D-list persona for the better. With "God Bless America," he fearlessly takes another step toward politically-loaded, sure-to-be-controversial subject matter by painting a revenge fantasy against the very people responsible for stripping decency from the world. The finished outcome doesn't add up to as much as Goldthwait might have originally envisioned for it—and its central target of an "American Idol"-like singing competition show seems misguided—but the picture is still an unblinking rally cry for humanity in a pop-culture-laden media landscape that makes its fortune out of exploitation and humiliation.

Frank (Joel Murray) is a divorced, middle-aged sad sack disgusted by the twenty-first-century world around him, a place where news hosts can spit hypocritical, narrow-minded vitriol for ratings, where reality shows have sunk to people literally throwing used tampons at each other, where the radio is overrun by mindless deejays and sexist shock jocks, and where a valiant act of kindness in real life can get a person fired for sexual harassment. The realization that his young daughter Ava (Mackenzie Brooke Smith) is turning into the spoiled brats he sees on TV and the discovery that he has a terminal brain tumor are, finally, the catalysts that send him over the edge on a country-wide killing spree. His targets are anyone who's lost sight of what being a respectful human being is all about, starting with the stuck-up subject of a "Super Sweet 16" reality program he's just suffered through, and then extending to patrons with no proper movie theater etiquette. 16-year-old Roxy (Tara Lynne Barr) shares Frank's disdain for humanity's wrong turn and has soon tagged along, the two of them becoming a sort of platonic, modern-day Bonnie and Clyde. Though crazily well-meaning, their blood-drenched voyage to right the sociological wrongs of the planet is destined to not end well.

"God Bless America" does the near-impossible by immersing the viewer so deeply and hopelessly into the worst of the worst in culture and media that, by the time Frank is shooting A-holes dead at point-blank range, the movie has made a convincing case for the necessity of mass murder. All (partial) kidding aside, writer-director Bobcat Goldthwait casts a cynical eye at the place we all live and makes good enough points for his cinematic diatribe to remain timely and worthwhile. Rough around the technical edges—a shot of what is supposed to be Virginia Beach is given away as the West Coast by the blatant palm trees dotting the coastline—and not always assured in its story turns—what is the point of a key revelation Frank finds out from his doctors late in the proceedings?—the film nonetheless grabs its audience and doesn't let go until the ultra-contrived ending. Guiding the way as unlikely soul mates Frank and Roxy, Joel Murray (2011's "The Artist") and Tara Lynne Barr (making her charismatic feature debut) prove to be as likable as cold-blooded killers can be, maybe because their extreme crimes come out of a passion for a better tomorrow. They may be crazy, but they don't deserve to be silenced—the biggest disappointment in the trajectory which "God Bless America" follows.
© 2012 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman