God Bless America
Bobcat Goldthwait strikes again
Apparently Bobcat Goldthwait doesn’t suffer fools gladly. He uses his latest directing effort, “God Bless America,” as a black-comedy platform for blasting everything from fear-mongering-for-profit by TV political pundits to the nincompoopery of “American Idol” fans. And the movie takes aim at Goldthwait’s targets literally: It’s about a terminally ill man who decides that if he is going to die, he is going to grab a gun and take a whole bunch of obnoxious people with him.
Joel Murray (“Mad Men” sad sack Freddy Rumson) plays Frank, a decent guy already feeling soul-crushed by divorce and job woes when he is told he has an inoperable brain tumor. Just as he is about to cap one final numbing night of reality-show viewing by committing suicide, he has an epiphany: The monstrous suburban teen princess on the screen is the one who should die. And Frank is just the dead man to make it happen.
Stealing his neighbors’ car — the cretins have it coming, of course — Frank makes the long-distance drive to the girl’s hometown, and promptly knocks her off. He is spotted by her schoolmate Roxy (amusingly sassy Tara Lynne Barr), a hyperexpressive junior misanthrope who is thrilled about the murder. Roxy immediately urges Frank to kill others, maybe take her on a spree. She is thinking country music fans; he wants slightly greater justification. They split the difference and start gunning down, oh, jerks displaying bad movie theater manners.
Some of this vigilante-fantasy misbehavior is wickedly funny. Frank fumbling his way through his first murder makes us remember just how skillfully Goldthwait wrung morbid laughs from his last, similarly risky film, “World’s Greatest Dad.” (Robin Williams, you will recall, plays a grieving father who creatively hushes up his abominable son’s autoerotic asphyxiation.) But other depravity goes too far. Goldthwait makes an aggressive opening grab for the audience’s attention with a gag about Frank stifling a crying baby — a bit that’s unique in its viciousness, but utterly clichéd in its crankiness, not to mention off-subject.
Still other scenes devolve into self-indulgent rants. “We’ve lost our kindness,” Frank wearily opines, doing his best with one diatribe. “We’ve lost our soul.” Goldthwait makes sharper statements with, say, understated observations about people who will slap a “Remember 9/11” bumper sticker on their car, but show zero regard for fellow drivers. So much for “united we stand.”
Tom Russo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.