Review: ‘America: The Motion Picture’, a scorching Netflix comedy that has nothing smart to say
It’s easy enough to poke fun at American exceptionalism – piety, mythology, the extremely selective memory of good and evil. But at this point in the story, you’ve got to bring something more to the party than some cheap laughs. A little wit. A little logic. A little bit of timing, to make sure you’re not just bombarding the screen with gags.
âAmerica: The Motion Pictureâ has none of the above. Aggressively stupid and in love with its own youthful instincts, Netflix’s animated film Independence Day confuses the outrageous with the hilarious, the anachronistic with the creative. Benedict Arnold is a werewolf. And he kills Abraham Lincoln. Who happens to be George Washington’s best friend. Good time.
Here is the deal. Arnold (voiced by Andy Samberg), the infamous traitor, is there to torpedo the Founding Fathers’ plans for a new nation. Chainsaw-wielding Washington (Channing Tatum) bowled over by Lincoln’s murder joins forces with a guy-in-law version of Samuel Adams (Jason Mantzoukas); a pimply Paul Revere (Bobby Moynihan); Thomas Edison, who happens to be a Chinese-American woman (Olivia Munn); Geronimo (Raoul Max Trujillo), who naturally has a chip on his shoulder after the Native American genocide; and a blacksmith (Killer Mike of the rap group Run the Jewels, who provides some of the music for the film).
On paper, it looks like a pretty funny movie, maybe even inspired. The founding fathers were incorporated in a significant way, drawing attention to how white and masculine the origins of the country were. Unfortunately, someone forgot to write a script. âAmerica: The Motion Pictureâ is laughed at for about ten minutes, and even these are pretty slim. Hey, Lincoln (Will Forte) is living in the wrong century. Hey, Martha Dandridge (Judy Greer) is a busty blonde temptress. To laugh. Giggle.
It’s funny to do stupid things. You have to be really smart about it. “America” ââdirector Matt Thompson knows a lot about this; he’s one of the brains behind âArcher,â which just might be the funniest show on TV. Archer is an idiot, but brilliantly, and the show plays out like an R-rated Marx Brothers cartoon. “America”, on the other hand, is content with breasts, beers and blood; a lot of blood, bodies cut into pieces, heads rolling here and there. It’s like someone on the creative team is saying, “Hey, we’ve got to get the most out of that R-rating.”
Watching âAmerica: the Motion Pictureâ I kept thinking about another scorched earth comedy about America and what it stands for. 2004’s âTeam America: World Police,â whose gags include a series of raucous puppets, went way above looking for laughs. He left nothing and no one unharmed. But he was also extremely intelligent, and he hit his targets with pinpoint accuracy. You never felt like he was throwing up a bunch of onscreen jokes.
These are ridiculous, often scary times, and political satire can provide a valuable tonic and perspective. But filmmakers must make the effort. Aiming for the lowest common denominator will keep us mediocre, or worse. âAmerica: The Motion Pictureâ isn’t much of a failure, because it doesn’t even try.
J“America: the movie”: The comedy. With the voices of Andy Samberg, Channing Tatum, Jason Mantzoukas, Bobby Moynihan, Olivia Munn, Raoul Max Trujillo, Will Forte, Simon Pegg and Killer Mike. Directed by Matt Thompson. (R.98 minutes). Available to stream on Netflix starting Wednesday, June 30.