05 May 2011

ALSO, MICHAEL MOORE IS FAT

Don't let that donation to the Carry On Campaign fool you - Pat King is a terrible, terrible human being. Just look at what he's making me watch.

I kid, Pat's one of my favorites, even if he is a total asshole.

So here we are again, wondering what the hell is the deal with movement conservatives and art. There is not, as far as I can tell, any actual reason why a right-wing polemic can't also be a watchable movie, unless it be that polemics generally don't make for scintillating cinema. Certainly plenty of more-or-less conservative films have been more-or-less great: dozens of Westerns from the last 90 years leap to mind, and most of the great action films throughout history. It is probably true that more artists are liberal than are conservative, for reasons I'm sure some sociologist could explain, but it's not the case that no artists are conservative, and surely one of them has even once considered making a movie in praise of his or her* deeply held and passionate beliefs. Yet I have in front of me An American Carol of 2008, which argues that no, conservatives just plain can't make movies, not even like the tedious ones made by liberals with more ideas than talent. Generally speaking, lefty message movies are at least functional, if often staggeringly unenjoyable. An American Carol is a howling vortex of incompetence.

It's just not funny, is its biggest sin, partially because it lets its message get in the way of the comedy (a powerfully tricky line to walk for any satire; they can't all be Dr. Strangelove), and mostly because the comedy that's there is really fucking bad. It is, after all, a film directed by David Zucker, and not the David Zucker who was one-third responsible for Airplane! 28 years prior, but the David Zucker who was wholly responsible for Scary Movie 4 2 years prior. In other words, you could strip every last marginally political idea from the movie, and it would still probably be one of the most grueling, unfunny things released that year.

This is a film that can't successfully make fun of Michael Moore. Jesus Christ, when you can't effectively make fun of Michael Moore, you are just not trying (though there's apparently something tricky about it: the most unsuccessful gags in Team America: World Police were the Michael Moore parts, so maybe he's just inherently beyond parody). An American Carol can't even figure out why it's making fun of Michael Moore: is it because he's such a lopsided, dangerous figure, corrupting everybody with his vicious anti-American screeds, or because he's so marginal, because he only makes *huhr* documentaries? By the way, the film absolutely despises documentaries as a form, which is surely more offensive to me than anything else it argues. Anyways, the writers Zucker & Myrna Sokoloff & Lewis Friedman never manage to settle down on exactly what makes him so contemptible and worthy of mockery, so they instead head over to much steadier ground: Michael Moore is a fat fatty who's fat.

I have just given away the punchline to an alarmingly high percentage of the film's jokes: Michael Moore, you see, has fatness about him, because he fatly fats and eats food. Also he is smelly because he does not shower - why would a fat person shower their fat? It reminds one of fellow 2008 uncomedy The Love Guru, where every third line was a dick joke, except replace "dick joke" with "observation that dicks exist, in a funny accent". There are fat jokes that are funny, or at least have the structure of things that are. Then there are the fat jokes in An American Carol, which simply point and jabber, "HE IS FAT" with neither set-up nor punchline nor anything else of that dryly technical nature.

Some advice to aspiring conservative satirists looking to make fun of Michael Moore: in satire, the point is to isolate the thing about your subject that is germane to the message being espoused, exaggerate it, and mock it. In Michael Moore's case, it's not germane that he's fat, but that he makes movies which are rather hysterical in their diagnosis of societal ills, and include much dubious information present as stone-cold facts. If you want to satirise Moore, you do it by making fun of that element of his persona; which is probably why the one largely effective scene in all of An American Carol is a parody of the end of Sicko, in which the Moore analogue goes on and on about how Cuba is the closest thing to paradise on earth, as people are being shot just feet behind him. Otherwise, Zucker & Co. are mostly content to simply assume that Moore is a damn liar & traitor, as a mere facet of the plot, rather than make jokes about it, which seems to violate the whole notion of making a satire about Moore in the first place, and that's our best tip-off that this is a Moral Lesson rather than a Funny Comedy. It's all very Zhdanovist, and that is the dire enemy of good humor.

As for the content of the film, it's implied already by the title: A Christmas Carol but for the Fourth of July. Indie documentary maker Michael Malone (Kevin P. Farley, Chris' even less-talented little brother) has just premiered his latest opus, Die You American Pig, and his gearing up for his rally to abolish the Independence Day holiday (which, since it's never, ever referred to as "Independence Day", means a lot of scenes with people shouting "Abolish the Fourth of July", which at least results in the marginally amusing image of calenders proceeding with stately intent right from 7/3 to 7/5). Meanwhile, a trio of Islamic terrorist, hapless Ahmed (Serdar Kalsin) and Mohammed (Geoffrey Arend), and stern True Believer Aziz (Robert Davi), wanting to make a better recruitment video for suicide bombers than the one they're currently using, have decided to hire the most American-hating filmmaker they can find, and have settled on Malone. Notably, Malone is so wrapped in himself that he never actually realises that these bumbling Muslims are trying to recruit him for nefarious reasons, which either means the filmmakers think that Hollywood directors are so reflexively anti-American that they don't register the presence of actual terrorists, or that Hollywood directors are so reflexively self-centered that they don't register the presence of actual people. Either way, I'm not sure if it's meant to be a joke; and also, the film's rather stunningly petty anti-Hollywood boilerplate (because David Zucker is one of the great independent artist of our times) is rather undercut by the repetitive insistence that Malone can't get no respect from Hollywood.

So! Malone needs an attitude adjustment, and he gets it from the ghosts of John F. Kennedy (a mesmerisingly bad impression by Chriss Anglin - seriously, do a JFK voice right now, and I guarantee it's at least as good as Anglin's) in the Jacob Marley role, and Gen. George S. Patton (Kelsey Grammer, in the film's most agreeable performance, largely playing as a riff on George C. Scott) as all three Spirits. George Washington (Jon Voight) shows up just in time to introduce a tremendously tasteless 9/11 reference, while Dennis Hopper appears as a judge in a hallucinatory "ACLU zombies" sequence that makes absolutely no sense. It's hard to say what, exactly, causes Malone to do his about face, other than embarrassment to be seen next to crackpot liberal Rosie O'Connell (Vicki Browne) - apparently I missed the right-wing meme where Rosie O'Donnell directs conspiracy-theory documentaries - on the Bill O'Reilly show (O'Reilly gamely playing himself, and getting to lecture Malone about how bad it is when "truth-tellers" are really just preaching to the choir - yes, Bill O'Reilly says this, in what would have been the film's best joke if only it were meant to be funny). But at any rate, he comes to his senses in time to apologise to the troops at a concert headlined by country star Trace Adkins, because as we all know, real Americans like country music, even the spectacularly shitty breed of pop-country perpetrated by people like Trace Adkins (also, the fact that Adkins sold out Madison Square Garden would appear to run contrary to the film's contention that effete New Yorkers don't like country music; maybe they all came in from New Jersey).

The hoary old Christmas Carolframework is no longer remotely fresh or interesting, not even when you have Leslie Nielsen, pointlessly cast because, hey, Airplane, as the narrator; but comedies needn't be fresh, just funny. And not to belabor the point, but An American Carol is. Not. Funny. Maybe it is in some incredibly subtle dog-whistle way, I don't know. But if there's anything to the humor besides "boy, Michael Moore really sucks - and IS FAT" then it's lost on me.

It doesn't help that conservative comedy already has an uphill battle: funny is usually a matter of thumbing your nose at what is proper and appropriate, and that's pretty much the opposite of what movement conservativism prescribes. Not to mention, An American Carol's view of "conservativism" is so stunted, almost like the producers were cynically trying to fill a niche and catering to a perceived audience. It's pretty much a straightforward "pro-military" movie, with one socialism joke that I noticed, a few "political correctness" gags, and a dismal musical number about how professors want to turn kids into liberal drones (I must have gone to the wrong school, where they employed a former Nixon speechwriter and all). Being "American" means one thing only: supporting every last damn military incursion ever made, as illustrated by an odd Neville Chamberlain scene with a clownish version of Hitler that no filmmaker should have felt comfortable putting in a movie made after 1945, and a dumbfounding "if Lincoln was a pacifist, there would still be slaves" scene that is irretrievably mired in racist jokes with the temerity to think that they're anti-racist.

Anyway, "war is awesome" is a tremendously difficult argument to make in a comedy - killing Iraqis and Afghanis by the twenties might be awesome, but it's not really very funny, unless you are a fucking sociopath. It's the last nail in a movie that combines the parodic insight of the Friedberg/Seltzer school with messagey harangues that constantly step in front of even that withered little gasp of comedy. Poor thing never had a chance. Frankly, I'm disappointed as any one of the movie's ideological supporters might have been: there's just no sport in picking off intellectually crippled failures like this.

4 comments:

Colin said...

"It is probably true that more artists are liberal than are conservative, for reasons I'm sure some sociologist could explain..."

I'm no sociologist, but I always figured, to be an artist, one must be creative, and when you think about it, "creative" is as much the opposite of "conservative" as "liberal" is.

Just a thought.

The.Watcher said...

I cannot believe this is the same director that gave us Naked Gun & Airplane!, it seems to me that, as soon as you change your views to conservatism, you lose whatever talent you might have had.

The.Watcher said...

^ Morale of that post: Do not become conservative, Tim!

Tim said...

Colin- That's my gut instinct, but I'm trying to be charitable. Though I guess since I said in my Atlas Shrugged review that libertarians can't make movies since they aren't, at heart, basically decent, I guess "charitable" is relative.

Watcher- I'm not planning on it, I promise.