Movie Review

Nowhere to go but up in 'Proud American'

By Emma Rose Johnson
Globe Correspondent / September 13, 2008
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"Proud American" is a hard film to define. It seems more like an hour-and-a-half-long infomercial for America than a narrative film or documentary. Like something you might hallucinate on Flag Day.

The film features four vignettes about good, hard-working Americans and their triumphs over adversity. There's Dawn (Jane Le), a Vietnamese girl who comes to America and ends up owning her own software company. Then a Jewish family in Pennsylvania has their windows broken by hooligans during Hanukkah, but are defended by their loving neighbors. There's Curtis Jackson (Terrence Hardy), a poor kid from Chicago, who works hard to become a doctor, and finally, Carlos (Michael Barreta), a Brazilian immigrant who becomes a Navy SEAL, then becomes paralyzed, then becomes a championship wheelchair racer. These are plot developments a talented eighth-grader might write for a school civics play.

All of this is interspersed with IMAX-friendly visuals such as the Grand Canyon and the New York skyline, and what may be the most hilarious product placement ever devised. The film was sponsored by Coca-Cola and Wal-Mart, among others, and two interludes show the founders of the respective corporations in the wholesome days of yore, when Sam Walton was just a small-town shop owner in Arkansas in 1945, and Asa Griggs Candler was first drawing up Coca-Cola's trademark in the 1890s.

Taken as a whole, the film is a bombardment of positivity - a fiercely chipper argument that with hard work, American freedom, and capitalism, you can do anything, be all you can be, get by with a little help from your friends, etc. It's no surprise that director Fred Ashman thanks Ross Perot in his acknowledgments.

There is at least one good moment in "American." Inexplicably, character actor Ken Howard appears for five minutes in the third vignette. He doesn't have much acting to do, only about six lines, but at least he was there, reminding me of better movies and TV shows I've seen him in.

Proud American

Directed by: Fred Ashman

Written by: Ashman and Rolland Smith

Starring: Ken Howard, James B. Sikking, Kimberlin Brown

At: Boston Common, suburbs

Running time: 90 minutes

Rated: PG (some mild thematic elements)

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