Reviews for the Easily Distracted

Reviews for the Easily Distracted:
God Bless America

Title: God Bless America

Opted Out of Dark Shadows, Did We? I had to go to traffic court the night of the DS screening. But I understand Eva Green keeps her clothes on, so no big loss.

Rating Using Random Objects Relevant to the Film: Two used tampons out of five.

...Used Tampons? We're treated to the sight of one getting flung at someone in the movie. However, like most everything else in God Bless America, we've seen it before.

Brief Plot Synopsis: Everyman with a striking resemblance to Mad Men's Freddy Rumsen goes on a killing spree for the good of society.

Tagline: "Taking out the trash, one jerk at a time."

Better Tagline: "Bobcat Goldthwait hates you and wants you to die."

Not So Brief Plot Synopsis: Frank (Joel Murray) is having a bad year. Recently divorced, he's also just been fired from his insurance sales job and discovered he has a brain tumor. He contemplates suicide, but after watching a reality show about a horribly spoiled teenager, he elects instead to go on a killing spree to rid the world of annoying people, and is joined by Roxy, a socially maladjusted high school student (Tara Lynne Barr) who shares Frank's frustration.

"Critical" Analysis: Writer/director Goldthwait has always toed the border between tasteful and tasteless. World's Greatest Dad was a commentary on mankind's quest for fame, taken to macabre heights, while Sleeping Dogs Lie explored the sometimes deleterious effects of complete honesty in a relationship (especially if said honesty involves divulging you once had sex with your dog). But for all the allegedly offensive material contained therein, Goldthwait's films were usually mild satires of conventional society.

Well, if Shakes the Clown was a poke in the ribs, God Bless America is a shovel to the face. An unrelenting and exhausting assault on virtually every annoying aspect of modern life, the movie is more than just an upthrust middle finger, it's Goldthwait's howl of outrage at what he feels America has become.

On the surface, it's hard not to share his anger. We're each of us subjected to an unceasing flood of obnoxious advertising, horrifying reality shows and nonstop media coverage of the worst humanity has to offer. This combination of lowest-common-denominator marketing and our own inability to look away threatens at all times to collapse in upon itself, and it feels sometimes like we're inevitably careening towards an event horizon of erectile dysfunction ads and pimped rides.

But as I watched God Bless America, I became convinced Goldthwait wrote this 20 years ago and just updated the TV shows and asshole religious figures (you could slot in America's Most Wanted over Jackass and Oral Roberts for the Westboro Baptist Church and not lose anything). Frank reels in disgust from what he sees as he surfs channels, but DVR technology and Netflix seem to have passed him by. The same with his growing anger as he listens to drive-time radio. Why can't Frank do what any other sane person does when confronted with Walton & Johnson or Don Imus and just turn the shit off?

And his diatribes against "political correctness" (Frank is fired for innocently sending flowers to a depressed co-worker) seem dated. When was the last time you heard someone ranting about how "PC" we've become that wasn't the Houston Chronicle comments section? The justifiable homicides in the first act are gratifying, sure (who hasn't wanted to blow away people who won't shut up in the theater?), but too often Goldthwait falls into speechifying. And every time Frank has to vent his spleen, it drags things to a halt. At those times, GBA is like Kevin Smith's Dogma, only with blood packs.

Goldthwait isn't the first director to let his rage at real-life events get the better of him (see also John Sayles), but harangues tend to lose steam over the course of an hour and 45 minutes.

Frank's ultimate target is a reality TV singing competition (if it looks like American Idol and walks like American Idol), but after watching him and Roxy terrorize zealots and right-wing radio personalities, I was hoping he'd aim a little higher (you'll forgive the pun). You can kill as many Simon Cowell knockoffs as you want and someone else will take his place. Why not Rupert Murdoch instead of one of his eminently replaceable shows? Or the FCC? Or the Pope instead of a handful of antigay nutjobs?

I wanted to like God Bless America, but in a culture of outrage, where even nonevents are peeled apart like one of Roose Bolton's prisoners by an army of amateur and professional complainers, Goldthwait has missed the boat.

God Bless America is playing at the Alamo Drafthouse West Oaks. For christ's sake, don't text while you're watching it.

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Peter Vonder Haar writes movie reviews for the Houston Press and the occasional book. The first three novels in the "Clarke & Clarke Mysteries" - Lucky Town, Point Blank, and Empty Sky - are out now.
Contact: Pete Vonder Haar