Writer-director Bobcat Goldthwait’s jeremiad against reality TV feels preachy, ponderous and about five years out of date
It’s one thing to object to a movie on philosophical grounds, but something else entirely when you agree with most of what a filmmaker has to say but still find the finished product tedious and irritating. That was my experience with Bobcat Goldthwait’s latest, “God Bless America,” a tedious would-be satire with all the subtlety of a car alarm and only a few more laughs.
It’s a revenge fantasy for anyone who hates reality TV and the general coarsening of the culture — “Falling Down” for NPR listeners, basically — but even if you stand with Goldthwait’s feelings on the subject, “God Bless America” indulges in so much speechifying and so little genuine satirical cleverness that a “Jersey Shore” marathon starts to feel like a better option.
Not that anything resembling “Jersey Shore” is mentioned here, mind you; this movie’s idea of topical satire is to score points off of “My Super Sweet 16” and legendary “American Idol” reject William Hung. Timely!
Joel Murray stars as Frank, a divorced average Joe who suffers from migraines that are exacerbated by his outside-voices neighbors and their ever-squalling baby on the other side of a thin wall. (Frank fantasizes about blowing them away with a shotgun in the first and boldest of the movie’s fits of violence.) Fired from his job and diagnosed with a brain tumor, Frank decides to murder the bratty girl featured on a 16th-birthday reality show.
This act of homicide gains him a fan — the dead girl’s classmate Roxy (Tara Lynne Barr). Agreeing with Frank that the world is filled with too many awful people, she joins him on a cross-country killing spree, taking out Bill O’Reilly–esque commentators, people who talk and text in movie theaters, Tea Partiers, Fred Phelps-alike evangelicals and other undesirables.
As with his previous film, “World’s Greatest Dad,” Goldthwait starts with a twisted premise full of dark possibilities, only to bobble the execution. The proceedings grind to a halt three or four times so that Frank can sermonize about shock jocks and the oppression of the weak and modern technology. (When he gripes about Twitter and cell phones, the movie skids from social commentary to old-man-yells-at-cloud territory.)
And while “God Bless America” ultimately wants to push the idea that we need to be nicer to each other, it does so by attacking the symptoms rather than the cause: Why kill the bratty airhead from “My Super Sweet 16” and let the Viacom executive who green-lit the show off the hook?
A truly bold satire might ask what agenda lies behind the proliferation of junk culture and proud illiteracy, and how the public’s obsession with moronic fads and crap TV distracts us from asking bigger questions about corporations and government, but “God Bless America” would rather make tired stabs at Simon Cowell.