An American Carol (2008) / Comedy-Fantasy
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for language and brief drug material
Running time: 83 min.
Cast: Kevin Farley, Leslie Nielsen, Kelsey Grammer, Trace Adkins, Chriss Anglin, Robert Davi, Serdar Kalsin, Bill O'Reilly, Geoffrey Arend, Dennis Hopper
Cameo: Jon Voight, James Woods, Gary Coleman, David Alan Grier, Mary Hart, Paris Hilton, Christopher McDonald, Kevin Sorbo, Fred Travalena
Director: David Zucker
Screenplay: David Zucker, Myrna Sokoloff, Lewis Friedman
Review published May 17, 2009
Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" forms the basis for this right-wing farce, done by liberal-turned-conservative director David Zucker (Scary Movie 3, Scary Movie 4), in this initially intriguing but ultimately painfully half-baked attempt to try to convince the world that neo-cons have a sense of humor as much as their counterparts on the left. If this were the only example, the answer to that question would now and forever be rhetorical.
The late Chris Farley's dead-ringer younger brother, Kevin (Frank McCluskey C.I., Blonde and Blonder), stars as a Michael Moore-ish documentary director named Michael Malone, who has received accolades for creating a series of films that denigrate the American system of government and industry ("Die, You American Pigs" is the title of his latest). Malone has taken to using his acclaim and notoriety to continue to push forward his dismantling of all things American, and his new agenda is to try to abolish the 4th of July as an American holiday. That's when Malone is visited by apparitions of great Americans past -- John F. Kennedy (Anglin, King of the Lost World), General George S. Patton (Grammer, X-Men: The Last Stand), and George Washington (Voight, National Treasure: Book of Secrets) -- in order to show him the errors of his ways through traversing into the past, not only of Malone's life, but of the country itself. Unfortunately, they have competition in the form of three scheming terrorists, who plan to use Malone to unwittingly make an anti-American film of outrageous propaganda for their own destructive purposes.
In my opinion, the main reason as to why An American Carol fails as a comedy is because Zucker and company cannot contain the outright hate they have in their hearts for the people they are trying to ridicule. The character of Michael Malone is punched, slapped, kicked, trampled, and subjected to vicious verbal abuse in nearly every scene he is in, sometimes multiple times within the same one. Why is this funny? Seeing someone who is universally despised, such as Adolf Hitler, punched incessantly doesn't evoke laughter either, even if completely deserved, so why does Zucker think it would work for a Michael Moore proxy?
Based on my observances, the answer isn't that he thinks it is funny at all. He actually has a deep-rooted hatred of Michael Moore and shows him getting injured as much as possible because he wishes he could do it in real life. I say, get a punching bag, David. Or a dart board with Moore's face on it. Why subject us to the ugliness of a constant barrage of slaps and punches that have little to no comedic value for the entire running length of what is supposed to be a witty satire?
When you begin to feel sorry for the object of derisiveness, the satire is not working. It's like "The Passion of Michael Moore" the way the filmmaker is degraded and humiliated by this conglomeration of Hollywood conservatives, to the point where, even if you agree with the politics of those on the right side of the spectrum, you wish they'd just leave the guy alone. If you're on the left, you can forget finding something of redeemable value here, as the conservatives show that they have a tin ear to what those on the left have to say if they think that whenever one speaks out against the country's positions on foreign policy, health care, or anti-corporatism that this person must obviously hate America. Rather than attack Moore and his kin in political spirit with facts and persuasion, Zucker would rather have someone slap him hard in the face and call him an idiot. If there's anyone in the audience whose opinion would change after such an "argument," perhaps that person might need a slap or two himself.
Despite the film centering around the 4th of July, An American Carol was released into theaters in October of 2008, just a few short weeks prior to the Presidential election. Perhaps Zucker felt that he actually had a film that could change public opinion in the favor of the Republicans. Or perhaps the studio thought that the film would be most appealing at a time when the public at large is in a political state of mind. Regardless, one must remember that Michael Moore tried and failed to bring down George W. Bush by releasing Fahrenheit 9/11 during an election year. An American Carol vanished completely from theaters long before Democratic candidate Barack Obama would win a decisive victory on the first Tuesday in November.
I don't really understand the rationale of the attack to begin with, but I do have some suggestions for the next attempt. When you try to discredit someone like Michael Moore in a film, don't bring out an equally despised blowhard like Bill O'Reilly to be first in line to lay the conservative smackdown. By doing so, even moderate-minded viewers become lost to persuasion. Don't cast long-in-the-tooth screwball veteran Leslie Nielsen (Men With Brooms, Dracula: Dead and Loving It), a Canadian (the credits list him as playing "Himself," so I won't say he's playing a role), giving his grandkids a lesson on what it means to be an American and love the good ol' U.S. of A. And don't bring out country stars like Trace Adkins to preach his jingoistic prattle and address his fans are the "Real America," as if those who choose to not listen to his music or think exactly like he does are not worthy to be in this country. The only lesson I learn is that the makers of the film feel that free speech should be upheld so long as that speech is in agreement with their beliefs. Otherwise it is sit down, shut up, or be prepared to have your dignity stripped away through an unending line of open-palm slaps to the face.
Although I do enjoy his movies, I think spoofing Michael Moore is fair game, as there is a great deal about him as a public figure that could make for a decent satirical target. His films are one sided, and his approach goes more for emotional effect than logic a great deal of the time. The conservatives have tried to take his films head on with their own documentaries, such as Fahrenhype 9/11, but haven't yet succeeded in winning the argument. The reason why is simple when viewed from an objective eye. The formula is to smear Moore as anti-American, that his anti-Iraq War stance does direct harm to the morale of the troops, and that he would rather give comfort to the country's enemies than to the men and women of the United States. Then they trot out the American flag, tie in all of their beliefs to great figures in American history, and the United States is always on the side of good, and our enemies on the side of evil.
The reason why the arguments fail is that Michael Moore has not been an anti-American hate monger. He has been, since first appearing on the scene with Roger & Me, an anti-corporatist. He attacked what American corporations have done to the communities in Michigan by outsourcing jobs in that film. He attacked the Bush administration in Fahrenheit 9/11, not because he is the leader of a country he supposedly hates, but because he and his administrations has, in his opinion, been in the pocket of major corporations and the interest of commerce first. He attacked the American medical industry in Sicko, not because it is American, but because sick and dying people are being turned away from professionals who've sworn to do what they can to save lives because insurance companies have the entire system in its chokehold.
Conservatives have every right to dislike Michael Moore, his movies, his politics, and his gadfly approach to public debating. He's a bit radical to most in the middle of the political spectrum, and even to some who consider themselves liberal, so lampooning him will strike a chord among many. But the knee-jerk reaction to labeling someone who is outspoken about the American way of life as "foreign," "socialist," "elitist," or just plain, old "idiot," only adds fuel to the fire of the uninformed. Openly embracing whatever the government chooses to do, even if it is harmful to the people the government is supposed to serve, isn't American, but rather, it is the exact opposite of what the country had been founded upon. It's hard to take the side of the filmmakers for trying to co-opt the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights, which upholds free speech, and then slam any constituents who dare utilize this right to be critical of government. The "sit down, shut up, or get punched in the face," approach to satire doesn't win any arguments, it merely ups the hostility, and when viewers are feeling increasingly hostile while watching a screwball farce, how can one say it is a successful comedy?
Even many conservatives won't find it funny, because the comedy, divorcing one's own political perspectives, just isn't good enough. When a heart wrenching Michael Moore documentary like Bowling for Columbine contains ten times the laughs than a laugh-a-second David Zucker farce, you can easily see how far Zucker has fallen in the comedy department since the days of Airplane! and The Naked Gun. If you are one of the few who finds yourself laughing whenever a liberal like Michael Malone is slapped in the face or punched in the gut, the film isn't tickling your funny bone. It is merely appealing to that pre-existing hate that resides in your heart.
©2009 Vince Leo