Bobcat Goldthwait fails to build on the scabrous, off-beam comic worldview of his previous film, World's Greatest Dad.
If you were one of the dozen-or-so souls who caught Bobcat Goldthwait’s previous film, World’s Greatest Dad – an acute satire of celebrity and hypocrisy wrapped around a gross-out teen suicide romp and delivered with the astringent kiss of a chemical burn – then you’ll no doubt be hoping his new film, God Bless America, builds on this scabrous, off-beam comic worldview.
He’s certainly broadened his creative canvas, taking as his subject the full-scale decomposition of American society, from work and family through to shiny-floor reality TV and the erosion of common courtesy. Withering polemical intent aside, though, Goldthwait has gnawed off more than he can chew. He has paid for the scope of his ambitions with a film that betrays a shocking lack of focus.
The smouldering ant under Goldthwait’s misaligned magnifying glass is divorced salaryman Frank (Joel Murray). Living alone in a generic, tract-housing shitbox, Frank is a genial sort who finds himself constantly assailed by the petty tyrannies, self-glorifying ignorance and crass, hateful values of a world – or, more specifically, an America – on the road to ruin. Frank’s as mad as hell, and when he’s unfairly sacked from his job and diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumour, he decides he simply isn’t going to take it any more.
Tooling up with heavy ordnance and hooking up with mouthy teen runaway Roxy (Tara Lynne Barr), Frank kicks the tires, starts the fires and takes to the road on a killing spree that turns out to be as scattergun as the film is scatterbrained.
Falling Down and Natural Born Killers are obvious touchstones, but lacking the spleen and desperation of the former or the overcranked psychotropic iconoclasm of the latter, GBA has neither impetus nor direction. Nor, it transpires, much by way of humour or insight.
Rather, we’re treated to endless motel pit-stop whinges about such sophomoric, fish-in-a-barrel targets as intolerant shock-jocks, American Idol contestants, people who park inconsiderately, teens talking too loudly in cinemas and – for some reason – celebrity screenwriter Diablo Cody.
Bull’s-eyes don’t get much bigger or fuzzier than these. And the Cody reference is especially eye-rolling, as Frank and Roxy proceed to pull apart the hip precocity of Juno with exactly the same kind of over-scripted, self-laudatory banter they’re supposedly deriding.
If the dialogue drags, cinematically GBA is running on something close to empty. There’s no sense of place informing the action. And if we have no feel for where Frank is from, how are we to understand where he’s headed? Perhaps the blank, featureless direction is itself hinting at the bland interchangeability of the modern American landscape. But that’s probably crediting the film with a subtlety it simply doesn’t deserve.
Goldthwait shows a knack for pin-pointing the sulphurous hues within the kaleidoscopic rainbow of alienation and frustration, but has sadly failed to paint any of them black.
After the success of his last film, hopes are Rocky Mountain High for a Panic in Detroit.
Goldthwait blazes down Route 66 with the Tupelo Blues but makes a real dog’s breakfast (in America) of it.
As you Harlem Shuffle out of the theatre, it’s less a Hooray for Hollywood than a New York Mining Disaster.