If your hunger for darkly comic vigilantism wasn’t satisfied by last year’s Super and the previous year’s Kick-Ass then don’t fear because Bobcat Goldthwait (the guy who made World’s Best Dad and appeared in the Police Academy movies) is kindly adding another to the ever-increasing pile. Actually, you might want to fear because this installment completely lacks any of the oddball charm that made the two aforementioned movies such a joy to watch. God Bless America orbits around the pathetic life of Frank (Murray) who after losing his wife, his job and his patience with the stupidity of modern America decides to team up with an equally bitter youngster named Roxy (Barr) and take out the trash together. What begins as a sharp, satirical and genuinely witty thriller almost instantaneously descends into tedium, thanks to the unbearably one-note and repetitive rants that the film’s creator channels through it.
No time is wasted in establishing God Bless America‘s unrelentingly dark tone (a baby gets shot within the first five minutes) and this is something that it at least deserves credit for. From the word go our retinas are assaulted with accurately observed albeit blatant spoofs of contemporary TV shows that screech and flash at us, forcing us to empathise with Frank‘s tormented state of mind. It has the subtlety of a sledgehammer to the skull but it manages to get away with it at first, painting a fractured and garish world that’s comparable to the likes of Brass Eye and Charlie Brooker’s excellent Black Mirror.
There’s no questioning Goldthwait’s talent for venomous dialogue but he appears completely incapable of carving out a story that’s at all surprising or engaging. Frank is a despicably sour and creepy human being and as a result he’s a terrible protagonist and one that’s worthy of little sympathy or support from the audience. On the contrary, movie-goers might be quietly pleading that he abruptly receives a bullet through the cranium if only to insert a bloodied full stop into his seemingly endless whining. Roxy is equally as intolerable with her nails-on-a-chalkboard kookiness and her petty digs at society which, whether intentionally ironic or not, make her almost the reflection of that which she has such contempt for.
There’s also an excessive amount of dialogue and almost every syllable is disgruntled and world-weary, and before the film has even crossed the ten minute mark the realisation hits you that there’s no escaping the film’s bleak black and white walls.
But even more loathsome than the narrative is the disconcerting overall message that it’s trying to convey which is that anyone with mildly irritating character traits deserves the death penalty. According to Frank and Roxy you deserve to die for the following reasons (to name just a few): being spoilt, talking in a cinema, laughing at people who can’t sing on talent shows, saying things like ‘you the man’, abusing the word ‘literally’, being Diablo Cody. It’s just breathlessly brattish and its rapid attempts at shocking and even (at times) trying to convert the audience to its miserable way of life become tiresome all too quickly.
It’s not a pleasant film to listen to and it’s just as unpleasant to look at. The production values are, at times, almost on par with that of a student film. The sets lack style as if they’ve been hastily built in a slap-dash manner and all this does is act as an alienating device that reminds you at regular intervals that you’re watching a film (and not a particularly good one at that). This becomes a major weakness when the film attempts to recreate high-budget set pieces such as an uninspired spoof of America’s Got Talent.What in reality looks expensive and glossy becomes a tacky affair in Goldthwait’s world, where the audience consists of about eighteen extras that look as if they’ve been dragged along with the promise of a free pint.
It’s a shame that there are so many flaws nagging at the film’s heels because underneath its hardened crust is a legitimately audacious and witty black comedy. But with cheap production values, suffocatingly didactic dialogue and a petulantly pessimistic message it ultimately misses its target by a long shot. But before this review turns into a Goldthwaitian string of complaints it shall end right now.