|Film review: God Bless America|
|Written by Ivan Radford|
|Tuesday, 03 July 2012 11:39|
Director: Bobcat Goldthwait
“Nobody talks about anything anymore. They just regurgitate everything they see on TV, or hear on the radio or watch on the web. When was the last time you had a real conversation with someone without somebody texting or looking at a screen or a monitor over your head? You know, a conversation about something that wasn't celebrities, gossip, sports, or pop politics. You know, something important, something personal.”
Bobcat Goldthwait’s God Bless America hits out at modern society. And it hits hard. It follows Frank (Murray), a man who hates the effect reality TV and the media has had upon the world. Then, one day, he snaps.
Is it the constant stream of vapid bile coming from his television set? The incessant wailing of the baby next door? The fact that his doctor’s just told him he only has a few days to live? Whatever the final straw, he jumps off his couch and decides he’s not going to take it anymore. Like a 21st Century Howard Beale, he’s mad as hell. And he’s got a gun.
So he starts shooting people. First up is TV celeb and spoiled brat Chloe - a hilariously botched assassination attempt that draws more attention than he hoped. Gunning her down in the school car park, he finds himself stuck with a sidekick, unhinged teenager Roxy (Lynne Barr). She’s the one who persuades him to set his sights higher: don’t just stop at Chloe. Wipe out all the ungrateful, rude, obnoxious people who represent the demise of civilization.
It’s here that Goldthwait’s scathing satire toys with failure. Roxy is Bobcat’s best (and worst) card. He uses her - rather than Frank - to present the idea of a killing spree, a move that makes her look like a psycho but Frank look like a reasonable human being.
And Frank is a reasonable human being. He’s articulate and intelligent when he vents his frustrations and, crucially, likeable thanks to Joel Murray’s underplayed charisma. (Remember poor old Freddy off Mad Men? That's this guy.)
Once its Bonnie and Clyde dynamic is established, God Bless America barrels along with a pace and verve that’s surprisingly infectious: on a simple level, it's hard not to enjoy the obscene revenge fantasy that plays out with the satisfying splatter of stupid people's brains. You might even cheer as the pair butcher a cinema audience for talking and texting during a film.
But as the homicidal rampage spreads, God Bless America’s targets start to lose their focus. "People who high-five!" cries out Roxy while brainstorming future victims, before suggesting Diablo Cody bites the bullet - a slight misstep.
Fortunately, the dialogue between the energetic leads is funny enough to keep their weird partnership going. It recalls last year's Super, but unlike that tonally imbalanced mess, Roxy and Frank's bond is never violated, a move that allows for a more conventional arc to their relationship, including a final act break-up. It's this twist that lets Bobcat chip away at their cause. Combined with a wry comment on gun control, the World's Greatest Dad director yanks the carpet from under us, inserting enough doubt in the final reel to put everything on edge. Then, just as that uneasy tone starts to fester, the director hammers it home with a bloody climax that's bang on message.
Which brings us back to Roxy, the two-dimensional guardian angel of gore. If she were more believable, Bobcat’s shoot-em-up would hit the target dead on. As it is, she’s just a nutcase. Is she a product of our warped society? A figment of Frank's imagination? Or a creation of Bobcat designed to make Frank seem sane? If Bobcat's supporting characters are only plot devices, designed to pitch the black comedy correctly, at least he lines his pawns up in the right order. And, if you can ignore the duo's unrealistic ability to avoid arrest, it’s lot of fun to watch him knock them all down.
More an angry diatribe than a film, God Bless America walks a fine line between incendiary entertainment and alienating damp squib. It sure as heck won’t appeal to some. It’s shockingly violent, unflinchingly horrible and completely, morally wrong - but Bobcat’s trick is that for most of the runtime, it feels so, so right.
And for105 blissful minutes, no one in the audience will dare to use their phone. God bless him, just for that.
God Bless America is out in UK cinemas on Wednesday 4th July - and shoots up your living room on DVD on Monday 9th July.