Hey film fans! Dr. Hfuhruhurr here returning to post after a looooong absence. What brings me back is that I want to talk to you about David Zucker’s new hot-button film, AN AMERICAN CAROL that is sure to generate a lotta love, hate, and debate.
David Zucker, as you know, is the comedy mastermind behind such classics as AIRPLANE!, TOP SECRET!, and the NAKED GUN series. I remember seeing AIRPLANE! when it first came out and there were people laughing so hard they fell into the aisles at the theater. I laughed so hard that I actually stopped breathing which then spun my into a full blown panic attack. Luckily I recovered, but I had to go back the next day to see the parts I missed from my near death comedy experience. The film is now a classic and the man is a legend. AIRPLANE! was a risky movie to make at the time. No one had done anything quite like that in modern times and it made the Zuckers’ careers. The danger for any filmmaker who has made as many comedies as Zucker, is that after a while they stop taking risks. Zucker’s most recent films, the SCARY MOVIE sequels, were safe studio programmers that were made by gag-shooter-as-hired-gun, and they lacked the inspiration and audacity of his earlier groundbreaking comedies. I’m sure, in this age of the spoof revival, Zucker could have continued making SCARY MOVIES and other spoofs and sailed off peacefully and profitably into the sunset as so many others have. Instead, he has gone all “eye of the tiger” on us, and he decided to do something risky and dangerous again (isn’t that what we secretly want from all of our favorite filmmakers?) In Zucker’s case it’s not just risky and dangerous subject matter, it’s a risky “you’ll never work in this town again” career move because he has fired a comedic shot across the bow of the Sacred Cows of Liberalism and Lefty Hollywood.
Before I go any further, I want to address a couple of elephants in the room.
First elephant: me. As many of you know I’m a diehard, unabashed Reaganite Republican. Harry, Moriarty, Mr. Beaks, Hercules...they all know this and I think they can vouch for the fact that I’m not some neo-con or Christian right moralizer, and I don’t go around slinging shit, trying to suppress other points of view, or trying to force my politics on anyone. If that were the case then I doubt the AICN guys would want me around. Though I am quite handsome and generous with the stogies so maybe they would.
Zucker, who will likely be called a right-wing fascist for making this film, actually drives a Prius and labels himself (if he must) as a centrist “Kennedy Democrat” (which, in these times, translates to Republican because the Socialist appeasers have run away with the Donkey party).
Second elephant: I want this movie to be a HUGE FREAKING SUCCESS which is why this isn’t going to be a traditional review and why I’m stating my bias right up front. I’ve had enough of the lefty propaganda in films like REDACTED, LIONS FOR LAMBS, IN THE VALLEY OF ELAH, RENDITION, and the one-liner jabs in almost every other mainstream film. It’s time for at least one tiny voice from the other side.
Third elephant: this film is an unabashedly all-out satirical attack on the sacred cows of the Left. It is a political satire and makes no bones about it. Someone I saw it with said they wished the film would’ve shown both points of view. However, that’s not what this film is, and it’s not what it was ever meant to be. It’s satire in the South Park, Mark Twain, and Jonathon Swift sense of the word. Take no prisoners and damn the other side! Read the satire rule book if you have a problem with that.
Now I’d like to point out the donkeys, er, asses in the room: all those people, bloggers, and critics out there who are saying, “How dare David Zucker make this film!?” I mean, c’mon people -- and I’m talking mainly to those of you who consider yourself “of the Left” -- you’re supposed to be the ones who are tolerant and who champion free speech. So man up and show some tolerance for a point of view that happens to disagree with your own. I didn’t throw a hissy fit about FAHRENHEIT 9/11 nor will I throw one about Oliver Stone’s W. I’m a big believer in: if you’re gonna dish it out, you gotta take it.
This is a democracy and those of us who trade in ideas and value free speech should be the ones who applaud loudest when something comes along that we disagree with. That doesn’t mean you have to like it, but yes, you should gleefully tolerate it. So instead of condemning Zucker for making this movie, you should congratulate him. Why?
Because this is THE BALLSIEST MOVIE EVER MADE! Love it or hate it, it’s got a big ol’ dangling pair of apricots.
The comical attacks on Jihad and radical Muslims alone are worthy of a twenty-year off-the-grid Salmon Rushdie vacation for Zucker and everyone else involved. George Clooney thinks he’s a brave filmmaker for tackling McCarthy or Big Oil? DePalma and Paul Haggis think they’re courageous for attacking Bush policies and the War in Iraq? Dudes, that shit's so safe you coulda put Sandy Duncan in them! But this...this is real life dangerous shit here! And I say: it’s about freaking time someone had the nads to do it. Only in pansy-ass Hollywood ’08 does it take a comedy director to avenge the death of Theo Van Gogh. If for nothing other than Zucker’s bold comedic jihad on the jihadists in this film, all of you free-speechers should be singing his praises and saying, “You know what, Big Z, I don’t agree with a damn thing in your little political movie, but let me wax your big ol’ balls for taking one for the First Amendment!” Mori, Harry? I’ll drive you to him personally because, seriously, as people who value free speech, we owe Zucker a shine and polish for what he dares to do here.
While watching this film, I couldn’t help but thinking, that this may be one of the most subversive things I have ever seen made by a mainstream filmmaker. I couldn’t help but think of the Marx Brothers’ anarchic DUCK SOUP. The Zuckers we’re always getting compared to the Marx Brothers at the time of their early spoofs, but David has taken it a step further here and gone full-Groucho. There is more subversion and anarchy per minute in this film than I have seen in years. We’re living in a bizzaro world here in Hollywood when conservative = the new subversive. The Left is the status quo establishment and we’re Marlon Brando riding into town on a motorcycle, scaring all the old folks!
WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD
BEWARE: NOT FOR THE EASILY OFFENDED
TURN BACK NOW IF YOU LOVE YOUR SACRED COWS
The story, in case the title somehow eludes you, uses the Dickensian Christmas Carol template to tell about a modern day Scrooge -- an egotistical, anti-war, anti-military, America-is-the-root-of-all-evil documentary filmmaker named Michael Malone who is clearly based on Michael Moore. Malone/Moore is played/spoofed by Chris Farley’s kid brother Kevin Farley who, based on his performance here in his big screen debut, will not be known as Chris Farley’s little brother for long. He has a charm and appeal all his own and we’re going to see him in lots of comedies and dramas if he survives his conservo-outing here.
When Malone decides to hold a rally to ban the 4th of July, he gets visited by the ghost of his hero, JFK. Kennedy quickly reminds Malone that he (JFK) was a war-when-necessary Hawk (and I might add, opposed to taxes. But I digress...). The film, however, is not a direct comedy assault on Michael Moore. The real life Moore is merely the means to the end, and the narrative uses him as a way to satirize the belief system, sacred cows, and ideals of the Left that he has come to embody and hold so dear to his cholesterol logged heart.
After the JFK visit, Michael Malone is visited by three ghosts who attempt to reform him and show him the true meaning of America (from the filmmaker’s POV, of course, so chill the fuck out). First, he gets a visit from General Patton (played by Kelsey Grammer) who takes him to the past and shows him Neville Chamberlain making his infamous deal with Hitler...and then shining Hitler’s shoes for him. Then Patton (who gives a new meaning to “slap-stick” in his role) takes Malone to an alternate America Now where Malone discovers that he has a house run by slaves (namely David Allen Grier with a small assist from Gary Coleman both of whom do some old school, gloriously offensive, Step’n-Fetchit shtick). Patton points out that sometimes war IS the answer, but in this alternate reality Abraham Lincoln believed, as Malone believes and as many on the Left believe, that War is Never the Answer and so there was never a Civil War fought to free the slaves. Patton makes a few more stops in his ghostly shift -- one at a college University that is a pitch perfect parody (literally since it’s a musical number) of student protestors (I mean, come on, Left or Right your gotta be annoyed by these idiots) and Ward Churchill type professors who are stuck in the sixties. It’s the ingenius and inspired comedy that we remember from AIRPLANE!
Malone is then handed off to the second Ghost, the Ghost of George Washington played by Jon Voight (so good here and played so straight that it makes you want to see a JOHN ADAMS style mini-series about Father George with Voight in the lead). This is the already infamous scene that many people (you know who you are) said, “What the hell is Zucker doing!? Has he lost his fucking mind!?” My answer is: no he hasn’t, he’s found his soul. The scene: George Washington takes Malone to Ground Zero just after the 9/11 attacks. It’s not a comedic scene. There is no gag here, no Zucker humor, not even any satire, and no blame game. It’s a scene that resonates and lets you know that behind all the slapstick and tomfoolery and spoof gags, Zucker is making a serious movie and he has some serious things to say about the world we live in. You don’t have to agree with its premise, but give the man props for leading with his soul and not with his wallet or his agent or career. In this moment you can see that Zucker has, I believe, made a very personal film about his own conversion (in the press he says he was a die hard Democrat who had a 9/11 conversion). It is not Michael Malone looking at Ground Zero here, it is David Zucker. It’s probably the only personal moment in Zucker’s entire canon and maybe even in this entire genre. Some may argue that a serious moment like this doesn’t belong in a wacky comedy. I would argue that this is what makes the movie special. Zucker is taking chances here that you can’t take in studio-financed films. Seriously, would you rather see him do SCARY MOVIE V for which no one would ever think he’d lost his mind (though they probably should in that case) or try something new, bold and dangerous? Again: see “balls.”
The final ghost, the harbinger of Death, is played by country music star Trace Adkins who has as much charisma and presence here as he had in “Celebrity Apprentice” (a guilty pleasure of mine). He’s a real charmer and a real star. At least on screen. I’ll never know what kind of presence he has in concert because, like Michael Malone in this film, I’d rather hear the sound of my own ass being roto-rootered than hear a single twang of country music.
Besides the great Jon Voight, the film is filled with lots of other familiar faces and established actors, a veritable who’s who of the new Hollywood subversives.
The legendary and iconic Robert Davi (GOONIES, DIE HARD, LICENSE TO KILL and the upcoming film THE DUKES which he also wrote and directed), beards up to play the head terrorist Aziz. One of the most interesting things about Davi’s performance is that he plays it straight and scary, reminding us once again that under all the comedy hijinks, Zucker is taking his film seriously.
“Heiniken? Fuck that shit!” it’s Dennis Hopper, making a cameo as a judge whose courtroom is being attacked by ACLU zombies.
James Woods shows up as Michael Malone’s agent who keeps reminding him (as does everyone else in the movie) that his Oscar was “only for a documentary”. Yes, Hollywood gets a bit of a TROPIC THUNDER reaming here as well.
Kevin “Hercules” Sorbo plays an acclaimed feature director who wins an Oscar for his film, “That McCarthy Sure Was Bad” which I believe Participant Media is actually making as we speak.
Like I said before: you can agree or disagree with the politics of this film, but it’s worth seeing by Left and Right alike for three reasons: (a) its ginormous balls; (b) it is actually pretty damn funny and inventive; and © you internet folks love free speech and want to encourage and promote it any way you can, right? There should be room for all opinions in this country and in our movie theaters, right? Mr. Wells? Anyone? Diversity of ideas is what makes this country great for both sides of the aisle. Right? Right?
My hope is that those opposed to the viewpoints in this film are actually as tolerant and free-speech loving as they claim to be and will actually give it a look before judging, because it is something to behold. If you love comedy and, in particular, the history of film comedy then you know that David Zucker is one of the modern pioneers. AN AMERICAN CAROL, if nothing else, shows that his pioneering days aren’t over. He’s taking a balls-out chance the way all the greats used to and the way so few people dare to do anymore. Everyone plays it safe these days, but what is comedy if it can’t go for the jugular, be truly iconoclastic, and piss off a lot of people? It’d be boring as hell, and this isn’t by a long shot. Whether you love it or hate it, you’ll never see anything quite like it. It’s refreshingly irreverent and inspired. And if your beliefs happen to be the target this time out, then welcome to my world.
If you don’t like the quality of the film then by all means, have at it. But if you want to suppress it or condemn it for simply existing or you want to personally attack Zucker for even daring to make it, then on behalf of JFK, Martin Luther King, Jr., Groucho Marx, and, yes, even Michael Moore, I say, “Go fuck yourself!” You’re not a true Liberal. Just another whiny bitch who can’t stand for someone who has an opinion that differs from your own. Which, after all, is what a lot of you are constantly accusing my side of doing. Now that is comedy.