After a day of eating Oscar Meyer Weiners, Kraft Singles, and Wonderbread, Appellate Judge Tom Becker had an American bellyache.
It can happen in any town.
A vérité-style look at jingoistic American teens turned homicidal lunatics, American Bully plays like an extended vignette from Crash, only without the polish.
A group of high school seniors in "Anytown, USA"—Anytown was actually the original name of this film—spends the evening hanging out and discoursing in nasty, far-far-far-right-wingish rhetoric and hate talk about immigrants (in general) and Middle Easterns (in particular). It's 2004, so the war in Iraq has begun and 9/11 is still a fresh wound.
They end up kidnapping a classmate who's from India—reasoning that Indians and Arabs are all the same. They take him to a conveniently abandoned house, and verbally and physically assault him. When the Mexican day laborer inconveniently drops in, head bully Brandon (Matt O'Leary, Sorority Row) shoots him. Then a whole slew of terrible things happen.
Director Dave Rodriguez—whose first feature, Push, caused the film Precious to change its name from "Push: Based on the Novel by Sapphire"—offers up a soft and sort of pointless political horror story that references two American tragedies: 9/11 and Columbine. While Rodriguez's intentions might have been to take a hard look at bigotry and paranoia, what he unfortunately offers are stock sounding boards rather than fleshed-out characters, as well as an overly simplistic story.
Rodriguez stumbles right out of the gate by giving us some TV newspeople—featuring "name" actors John Savage and Natasha Henstridge—talking about the story they'll be doing about the incident. They play an audio CD of two boys reciting a bastardized form of the Pledge of Allegiance before killing a third boy, who's begging for mercy. Thus, we have our story laid out and basically completed before the credits even roll; when the scene actually plays out, it's something we've already seen. Henstridge turns up again at the end as a reporter doing an on-camera story about the killings—if you missed the Columbine connection, don't worry, she'll fill you in. This is a hopelessly sloppy and poorly written scene that would undermine a better film.
After our newshounds spoil the ending, we meet high school student Brandon, who's getting a one-day suspension for sending out a video of an American captive being decapitated by jihadists. "The classroom is no place for a political discussion," the principal heavy-handedly, but unironically, intones. This evidently gives his friends license to take the day off as well, including serious student Mike (Marshall Allman, True Blood).
While Mike is college-bound and Brandon is headed off for the military, the other two friends have little in the way of back- or fore story, and essentially serve as American Bully's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.
In between random—and possibly improvised—comments about the usual high school stuff (sex, beer, parents), the kids expound with the usual pronouncements against immigrants ("Send 'em back!") and anyone of Middle Eastern descent ("Kill 'em!"). Even without the pre-credit tip off, the ensuing violence would be inevitable.
But it's also kind of trite. The boys are so one-dimensional, you can barely tell them apart, and the actors don't seem entirely comfortable with Rodriguez's free form, improv-heavy style. This "Anytown" is really like any movie town, one of those burgs situated right between Suburban and Redneck, where the only things for teens to do are have sex or kill each other.
I'm sure Rodriguez was trying to make a statement about hatred in America, and fear, and the culture of violence, and all that, but it's all stuff we've seen and heard before. It's great to try to make something "topical," but if you're not bringing anything new to the table, what's the point?
The disc is from a company called Green Apple. It's a perfectly fine rendering of a film that looks a lot like video to begin with. The only supplement is a trailer.
Not a terrible film, but not nearly the thought-provoking examination of society it seems intended to be, American Bully is just forgettable indie fodder.
Not really guilty.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Green Apple Entertainment
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