Charles Dickens’ classic A Christmas Carol is so iconic, it’s almost become the standard for Christmas specials. Everyone from Patrick Stewart to Michael J. Fox has played some form of Ebenezer Scrooge, and it’s gotten to the point that just about every original twist that could be taken on the story has been done. Leave it to David Zucker (Airplane!) to find one other twist, by transforming the holiday from Christmas to the Fourth of July, and targeting Hollywood’s liberal habits along the way.
The Scrooge figure in Zucker’s tale is Michael Malone, an obvious spoof on documentarian Michael Moore, right down to a repeating gag about how documentary filmmaking isn’t real filmmaking. Following the accusations made in real life by the conservative right, Moore’s fictional counterpart’s filmmaking is motivated by a disgust and dislike of what America has become, to the point that Malone is leading a rally to cancel the Fourth of July. Unfortunately for Malone, he’s about to receive visits from the spirits of three notable political figures who aim to teach the documentarian the real meaning of the Fourth of July, and transform the liberal filmmaker into a super patriot.
There’s no getting around the fact that An American Carol has a strictly-Republican agenda. The movie strives to deconstruct Michael Moore’s liberal filmmaking, and really pushes the party line that we have to take the steps we take in the war against terror, “or else the terrorists win!”, right down to a depiction of Hollywood should the war on terror be lost - Binladenland, where women wear burkas and the classic Hollywood sign has been rearranged. Frankly, I give Zucker credit for bringing a parody flick forward that actually has any kind of agenda - it’s a refreshing change from the recent rash of flicks that aim to cram as many pop culture references into ninety minutes as possible.
I also have to give a bit of credit to some of the comedic performances An American Carol holds. Actor Kevin Farley has actually managed a decent career without being noticed, despite being the younger brother of the late Chris Farley. Here he blends together the double takes of his older brother with the look of Michael Moore, resulting in a part that lacks much in the way of subtlety, but is pretty hilarious to watch, especially as he gets smacked around and proves quite adept in slapstick comedy. Kelsey Grammar dominates the screen as always in his sizable role as General George Patton, and Robert Davi plays an awesome villain as always. A bit questionable casting is Trace Adkins, who plays himself but then also fills in as the Angel of Death/ Ghost of Christmas Future figure. After seeing JFK, Patton, and George Washington (an almost unrecognizable Jon Voight) as the other spirits, a contemporary country musician feels randomly plugged in. What, they couldn’t find any additional Republican figures to fill in?
Although Zucker’s story is a refreshing change from the poor excuses for farce comedy we’ve been subjected to in recent years, it’s still not a return to high form for the comedic director. The movie is so steeped in its conservative agenda that it lacks any real focus. It’s fun watching Farley get knocked around by the spirits and other things, but eventually Ebenezer Scrooge had to learn a lesson of his own shortcomings - the mistakes of his past and the ultimate fate of his future. That frame feels like the weakest part of An American Carol, resulting in an extremely weak story. The shots at Democratic policies, procedures, and antics are funny enough, even for someone from the left side of the fence, but without a legitimate story to hold the movie together, it winds up being a considerable disappointment.
An American Carol isn’t likely to ruffle any political feathers and it lacks anything else that might make it stand out. With a release date that fails to capitalize on either the Fourth of July or Christmas, this adaptation of Dickens’ classic is just a little bit of noise during a political season that already has too tight a grip on most people’s attention for a piece of fluff like this to be noticed.