God Bless America, but God help the lack of direction in Bobcat Goldthwait's scattershot revenge fantasy.
Frank Murdoch (Joel Murray) is the sort of guy to whom life appears to be giving a jolly good kicking. Disinterested ex-wife (check), bratty daughter (check), undemanding job (check). By night he watches television that insults the intelligence and by da he has to hear his work-colleagues tweitetring on about those programmes as if they were Shakespeare. His life goes from bad to worse when he's fired for being pleasant to the firm's secretary and his doctor informs him that he has an inoperable brain-tumour. He decides rather than immediately take his own life, he'll kill the star of a particularly profane reality show. He succeeds, despite himself, but is persuaded by school-girl wittness Roxy (Tara Lynne Barr) that there are plenty of other people worth taking out of the shallow end of the gene-pool.
Though he's rightfully wary of Roxy's somewhat ammoral stance on revenge and retribution, Frank finds himself on the run with Roxy as they bring their own brand of justice to everyone from fork-tongued cable show pundits and those who talk loudly at the theatre. Frank feels he has nothing to lose, but where will the duo's journey take them?
Directed by Bobcat Goldthwait, God Bless America is a film that wants to be more edgy than it is. It certainly has an anarchic vibe and dark sense of humour, but what it doesn't have is a firm hand on the tiller. While there are some great one-liners and ironic moments, too much of the film feels like the director is simply lining up a list of greivances and then shooting at them in scattershot fashion, firing wildly rather than aiming with care. Too often we have to go through several minutes of Frank explaining his annoyances and reasons for his 'rampage' before he shoots the person in question. Without casting aspersions on Frank's reasoning, nor his fatalistic way of taking out the trash, he comes across as a whiner, even when winning.
This is a film that leans more towards a mix of Natural Born Killers and Kick-Ass than the Falling Downesque premise it suggests and the problem is that it goes for the bloodsplat more than the jugular. Frank's thinly-disguised targets – such as the Bill O'Reillyalike and an American Idolish panel – cannot really be parodided as they already exists as caricatures in the real world. While it's initially understandable to sympathise with Frank and his striking out at the barrage of lowbrow culture that orbits his life, there's no real momentum or sense of consequence to what he does next. He goes from angry to frustration to being bored – exactly the wrong trajectory for such a story. We've all dreamed of revenge, but this reads like a un-pc sketch, not a grand guignol soap-opera.
Murray and Barr are actually very good in their individual roles, given moments to shine and this is certainly a project that will get them noticed, but the film itself doesn't service their characters as well as they deserve. Tarantino fans might appreciate its lack of clear moral stance and anarchic attitude and it's a perfectly acceptable romp for its imminent DVD release (less than a week after a limited cinema run) but Goldthwait has missed an opportunity to craft something more topical and precise. This could have been a Falling Down for the ringtone generation, but instead we have something that feels more like a R/18 rated episode of The Simpsons-meets-Dexter but not as good as either.
Adequate anarchy, but something of a missed opportunity. However see Andrew Modeen's more positive festival-screening from earlier in the year, below…
Released by StudioCanal, God Bless America will be in UK cinemas for a limited run from 4th July and available on DVD and download from 9th July. A special showing with Bobcat Goldthwait in attendance takes place at the Prince Charles Cinema in London on 4th July. Tickets are available through: www.princecharlescinema.com