There’s an unnerving irony to Bobcat Goldthwait naming his pitch-black comedy God Bless America. For starters, I’m not sure Goldthwait (who writes and directs) believes in God. And if such a mystical being existed, I’m not sure He/She would bless the shallow denizens of America. He/She, instead, would prefer to riddle our vapid husks with semi-automatic bullets.
Have you ever overheard someone, in mixed conversation, saying something so asinine that you hung your head and thought, “I just want to kill this person?” Probably. Such aggressive, knee-jerk reactions have become commonplace in society (if Twitter, Facebook and comments sections of popular movie web sites are to be believed). I blame the media. But because you’re a sane, somewhat-rational individual, you wouldn’t act on such thoughts. You’d take a deep breath, do your best to tune out the noise-maker, and go on with your day.
That’s what separates you from Frank (Joel Murray), a down-in-the-dumps schlub who’s consistently irritated by those around him, frustrated by his dead-end job, and perplexed by the “popularity” of our nation’s pop culture. American Idol? More like a bunch of American idiots. Morning-radio deejays? Their mothers should have taken the morning-after pill. And that crying baby incessantly wailing in the apartment next door to Frank? He has a shotgun that should solve that problem … permanently.
Free will allows anyone to take a hardened stance on the imbeciles of the world, but our invisible consciences generally prevent us from resorting to violence when, say, someone talks during a movie. But after Frank learns he’s terminally ill, he figures he’s done swallowing the shit spooned out by America’s ignorant slobs, and he takes to the streets to exact revenge on anyone stupid enough to annoy him.
If you had told me nearly 30 years ago that the snarling, greasy, voice-cracking ball of aggression from the Police Academy movies would be trying (and, for the most part, pulling off) some of the industry’s sharpest satire, I likely would have rolled my eyes. But with the riotously (and righteously) funny World’s Greatest Dad and now this, Goldthwait is establishing himself as a voice of opposition I know several ears are going to want to turn to. Goldthwait, the screenwriter, fills Murray’s mouth with plain, clear statements of so-called reason, which carry weight because they slice through the mentality of our country’s vocal majority. I often found myself siding with Frank in his assorted, extreme situations … even as I recognized the error of his ways.
As a whole, God Bless America falls short of Dad, which caught me by surprise with its unflinching honesty but had something to say about the difficulty of parenting when your kid turns out to be a dick. Goldthwait aims at a lot of easy targets in America, from reality-show contestants and movie talkers to stuck-up high school bitches. But he knocks them down without breaking much of a sweat, like a grown man punching bullies on the elementary school playground. Murray’s calm demeanor anchors the early stages of America. The actor (a brother of Bill Murray) can hardly believe he’s one of the few who has woken up to the absurdity of life, and when he pushes back, we support him. However, the introduction of wild child Tara Lynne Barr as rabid Roxy -- Frank’s teenage partner in crime -- only pushes an already absurd bit of satire over the edge.
God Bless America played the famed “Midnight Madness” program at the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival, and has made subsequent splashes at late-night fests across the country. That’s where Goldthwait’s brand of comedy plays best -- in the hazy, wired afterhours of a risky fest, where genre fans gather to worship and thank God (or whoever is out there listening) that filmmakers like Bobcat are still taking chances.