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God Bless America – Film Review

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God Bless America - Tara Lynne Barr and Joel Murray
Roxy (Tara Lynne Barr) and Frank (Joel Murray) are a well-armed odd couple with a rather intense dislike of American pop culture © 2011 Darko Entertainment

Director/writer Bobcat Goldthwait’s God Bless America is a darker-than-midnight comedy about one man’s rather dramatic way of making his feelings known about everything he thinks is wrong with American pop culture. By shooting people, that is.

The cynically sharp screenplay is overflowing with targets for everyday outrage. Its lengthy checklist of offenders ranges from high-fivers and “people who use ‘rock star’ as an adjective” to intolerant preachers, nasty talent-show judges and hateful right-wing political commentators.

Goldthwait doesn’t appear in the film, which at first seems like a strange casting decision. His morose antihero Frank (Joel Murray), who riffs about society’s ills using the stand-up comic’s cleverly worded rants, is so consistently low-key he’s almost the anti-Bobcat.

God Bless America - Joel Murray and Tara Lynne Barr
Frank (Joel Murray) and Roxy (Tara Lynne Barr) express their opinion of an 'American Idol'-type TV show © 2011 Darko Entertainment

What’s unexpected is that Frank’s shell-shocked detachment turns out to be more interesting than an outraged and over-the-top performance may have been. Instead of coming across as Dennis Miller snide, Sam Kinison bombastic or George Carlin intellectual, Frank is a deadpan sad sack who is more disappointed than mad as hell about society’s shortcomings. But when he decides he’s not going to take it anymore, his reaction to the country’s idiocy overload has more in common with Taxi Driver or Natural Born Killers than Network.

Frank’s close-to-home antagonists include infuriatingly inconsiderate neighbors, moronic co-workers and a shockingly unfeeling doctor who tells Frank he has a brain tumor while simultaneously chewing out a car salesman on the phone. Frank is about to commit suicide when he realizes that plenty of other people deserve to die before he does, especially media personalities who contribute to the modern world’s pervasive unkindness.

The first celebrity in his sights is a spoiled 16-year-old reality-show star named Chloe (played to screechingly whiny perfection by Maddie Hasson). Frank is spotted staking out Chloe by Roxy (Tara Lynne Barr), a sardonic and resentful classmate. His comically clumsy attempt to set Chloe’s car on fire after handcuffing her to the steering wheel appears doomed to end in frustrated failure, until he takes the direct approach by shooting her. Roxy’s impressed reaction: “Awesome!”

Middle-aged Frank and teenage Roxy become unlikely companions on a quest to terminate similar social irritants. As shockingly graphic as their crimes are, it’s hard not to derive some satisfaction from seeing them blow away people like the jerk whose car takes up two parking spaces, or audience members who use their phones during a movie.

The characters’ monologs occasionally go on too long to seem spontaneous, but are undeniably funny. The ridiculously bitter Roxy turns out to have as many complaints about the world as Frank does, ragging on everyone from Diablo Cody to Jeff Foxworthy to the cast of Glee. “Let’s move to France,” she suggests, “or some other country that hates America.”

Naturally, the media misinterprets the duo’s motives, which Frank sums up as merely wanting “to kill people who deserve to die.” His ultimate goal is to wreak vengeance on an “American Idol”-type TV show that mercilessly mocks an apparently mentally challenged contestant.

Fans of Todd Solondz-style uncomfortable comedies should enjoy the awkwardly amoral vibe of God Bless America. But anyone who might not appreciate the humor of a Teddy bear target-practice session by unrepentant spree-killers may want to stay far, far away.

[Rating: 3 stars]

God Bless America US theatrical release date is Friday May 11, 2012. Canada release on July 20, 2012.