Like Falling Down and Taxi Driver, God Bless America sees a disillusioned middle-aged white American flip out and go on a killing spree. After losing his job, being dumped by his wife and discovering that he’s terminally ill, doughy downtrodden middle-aged guy Frank (Joel Murray) decides to he has to kill the sort of selfish, hateful people he thinks have made his life a misery. For him, the most glaring examples of these people are the stars of nasty, trashy reality TV. As he sets out on his quest to annihilate the TV trash bags, he’s soon partnered by disturbingly perky but bloodthirsty teen, Roxy (Tara Lynne Barr).
The film purports to be a satire of American culture, particularly exploitative “reality” TV like American Idol, TMZ and those Bachelor type shows that compel women to attack each other. Admittedly, the initial parody of car crash TV cleverly and amusingly dissects the ugly, heartless attitudes that feed the American (and to some extent the world’s) psyche. Also, Frank’s accompanying pleas for a more compassionate society are heartfelt and affecting. Unfortunately, the film’s message soon becomes murky and even hypocritical. When Frank is depicted as a disturbed individual who’s been kicked in the guts by life one too many times we can at least understand him lashing out. Having him and Roxy coldly blowing away people who appear on a bad TV shows or who use annoying catchphrases is a little harder to justify.
In fact, the self-righteous Frank and Roxy’s killing spree is only possible because of one of America’s worst problems, the easy availability of guns. The film’s token attempt to acknowledge this contradiction typifies the half-baked ideas plaguing writer/ director Bobcat Goldthwait’s script.
While Joel Murray does a decent job as the everyman pushed too far, the script doesn’t allow his character or that of his partner in crime, Roxy, to develop during the film. There’s no sense of them taking a journey, so the film has a kind of one note blandness. Also, the film’s flippant tone makes it difficult for us to take the characters seriously or empathise with them.
There’s also some pretty blatant attempts to curry favour with film critics here particularly when the pair kill people talking and using mobile phones in a cinema. Unfortunately, in the wake of the shootings during the Dark Knight Rises screening, these scenes are unintentionally offensive.
The film does, however, make fine use of music with the likes of The Kinks, Alice Cooper and The Black Rebel Motorcycle Club. It actually contains a discussion of popular culture which gives due credit to Alice Cooper for his influence as a rock pioneer. The only problem is that this adulation for Alice is delivered Juno-style by Roxy and clearly reflects the attitudes of its middle aged writer/ director rather than any living teenage girl.
There are some genuinely amusing and even thoughtful moments in this film but its approach is too often simplistic and morally confused.
Nick’s rating: Two and a half stars.
Classification: MA 15+
Director(s): Bobcat Goldthwait.
Release date: 15th Nov 2012
Running time: 105 mins.
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