Vivendi Visual Entertainment // 2008 // 83 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Michael Rubino (Retired) // January 12th, 2009
Laugh like your country depends on it.
A month before the 2008 Presidential Election, the theaters were lightly dusted with political documentaries and feature films. While most were generally predictable in their mode of attack, An American Carol was something of an anomaly -- it was a movie made for conservatives. Filled with cameos by respectable character actors, and helmed by Airplane director David Zucker, An American Carol tries to be a comedy for Republicans. Note the word tries.
Michael Malone (Kevin Farley) has made a reputation for himself as the premiere left-winged documentary filmmaker in Hollywood. Of course, that doesn't really amount to much. What Malone really wants is to make a feature film. Lucky for him, a group of bumbling terrorists show up just days before Malone's big Fourth of July protest and offer him the money to make the movie of a lifetime.
Before Malone can really get under way, however, he's visited by the ghost of President John F. Kennedy, who informs Malone that he'll be visited by three spirits who will teach him what it means to be American. Thus, in an elaborate parody of Dickens' A Christmas Carol, Malone is visited by General George S. Patton (Kelsey Grammer, Fraiser), President George Washington (Jon Voight, Transformers), and the Angel of Death (country music's Trace Adkins).
Conservative satire is pretty sparse in the film industry. There are a few standout examples, but for the most part the political leanings of Hollywood have been undeniably one-sided. An American Carol tries to thwart all of that in one fail swoop by taking Sean Hannity's talking points and pouring them into the mold of David Zucker's previous parody flicks. It's a novel idea, but one that's ultimately at odds with itself. You could say the film is a lot like President Bush's attempts to reform Social Security during his second term in office: he raised awareness, but accomplished nothing.
An American Carol takes the low road in conservative satire, embracing the oft chided "us versus them" mentality that hyperbolically assumes everyone who disagrees is a scum-sucking terrorist. Zucker, along with screenwriters Myrna Sokoloff and Lewis Friedman, take plenty of shots at elitist Hollywood celebrities, left-winged protesters, academic indoctrination, and documentary filmmakers all with varying degrees of success. Sadly, for every intelligent or funny moment in the film (like the Good Night, and Good Luck spoof "That McCarthy Sure Was Bad") there are five "smack a blind girl in the face" jokes. But Zucker tries to balance out the comedy with sobering messages about the American military, religion, and 9/11 which feel more out of place than John Kerry at a Burger King. The result is a mash up of emotions, messages, and themes that are all at odds with each other. It takes a nuanced and skilled hand to create a satire that's funny and powerful, and no one here has one.
The thing of it is, there is plenty of room for both liberal and conservative films in Hollywood. And there have been a few good conservative comedies over the years (Thank You For Smoking and the films of Whit Stillman come to mind). An American Carol may appeal to some folks, but people looking for respectable right-leaning humor shouldn't settle for such a mediocre affair.
Not helping matters is Zucker's direction, which shifts tones and styles so often it's jarring. For whatever reason, film will dip in to choppy post-production slow-motion, which looks absolutely ridiculous. Sometimes the story will awkwardly jump back to Leslie Nielson, who is narrating the tale from a BBQ. Throughout the movie, General Patton shows up more than really makes sense to usher in a new skit. If this is like A Christmas Carol, why is the first ghost getting all the screen time? According to Zucker's commentary track, they were re-writing jokes and scenes while they were filming, which may explain the film's uneven tone and hit-or-miss humor.
The film's DVD transfer doesn't benefit from the meager budget either. The video is decent, but the colors come off as flat and muddy. A lot of the post-production work looks too fake on the transfer as well, including the numerous green screen and blurry slow-mo sequences. The sound is a little better, coming in both 5.1 surround and stereo tracks. The music and dialogue are balanced nicely, but there are occasions where someone's line is just too fast or quiet to really be understood the first go-round. For example, when Malone is giving his speech to the chanting mobs outside of a university, someone in the crowd yells something that prompts everyone to storm Malone and crush him under foot. I couldn't understand what the guy said, but it clearly meant a lot to all those extras in the crowd.
Speaking of which, the extras on the disc are pretty sparse. There are about 15 minutes of deleted scenes, alternate takes, and outtakes, the majority of which aren't worth watching. One interesting deleted scene was the extended song-and-dance number from the professors in the lecture hall; the weak and repetitive songwriting made me glad much of it was cut (Professors are stuck in the past, we get it!). Zucker, Farley, and Friedman also provide a commentary track filled with insights on their manic shooting process, and the various issues they had on the set. There's too much "we know this joke stinks" self-deprecation to make it enjoyable the whole way through, and there are plenty of awkward gaps in the commentary where the movie's audio never returns. I could be wrong, but the commentary makes it sound as if no one was really happy with the way this thing turned out. There's also a bunch of trailers and a weird "Special Thanks" page.
An American Carol was made for a very small niche in American society: conservatives who really like Scary Movie 4. That's a select few, I know. I tried to give this movie a chance. Every time I started to laugh at something, the film's tone shifts, a character farts, Kevin Farley makes a "yeah right" face, and I just sigh. This isn't Airplane -- not even close.
Conservatives shouldn't settle for this kind of humor. In fact, liberals will probably enjoy laughing at this movie more than conservatives will laugh with it.
Guilty of making Russell Kirk and William F. Buckley Jr. roll in their graves.
Review content copyright © 2009 Michael Rubino; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Vivendi Visual Entertainment
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 83 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* Deleted Scenes