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Movie Review: An American Carol

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The worst thing about An American Carol is that it was made by people who should know better. The film's director, David Zucker, helped create Airplane!, arguably the mother of all spoofs. It took no prisoners, embraced no pretensions, and made mincemeat out of whatever targets appeared on its radar. But the years since have not been kind to Mr. Zucker, if making drivel like An American Carol is what he's resorted to. Itself an unabashed parody, not only is the flick just plain not funny, it's a movie with a message that has zero clue as to how to deliver it.

Having already skewered disaster movies and the horror genre, Zucker's latest project is a bit more political. An American Carol centers on Michael Malone (Kevin Farley), an extremely left-leaning filmmaker responsible for such topical documentaries as Die, You American Pigs. But despite critical acclaim and legions of fans that hang on his every word, Michael longs to be able to direct an actual feature film. He's well on his way when some financing drops in his lap, but little does he know that he's actually being used as the pawn of a terrorist group itching for new recruits. But before production can begin, Michael is visited by a series of spirits who try to set the oafish director on the straight and narrow. From General George S. Patton (Kelsey Grammer) to John F. Kennedy (Chriss Anglin), these ghosts have taken it upon themselves to convince Michael to recant his words and show him that there's plenty to like about the U.S. of A.

With An American Carol being a political film, one's own beliefs will undoubtedly come into play whilst watching it. I don't want to get too weighed down in this area, so let's just say that I'm not part of the demographic that Zucker is shooting for. Then again, a lot of people won't be, since he doesn't seem to leave a lot of leg room. Good luck finding anything resembling a gray area in An American Carol. Everything about it is taken to the extreme, which wouldn't be so bad if Zucker used his time to poke fun at zealots on both sides of the political divide. But instead, Zucker allies himself with those who share the mindset that all "real" Americans appreciate the fine art of NASCAR and survive on a constant diet of country music. Despite the abundance of slapstick, there's nothing funny about how the film depicts anyone who deviates the slightest bit from this attitude as a liberal hippie out to destroy the country. Even Joe Sixpack knows that things aren't that simple, but try telling that to Zucker. His eagerness to throw his hat in the political ring surpasses his ability to manuever this murky realm; he blindly pounds on buttons when he should be pushing them with nimble dexterity.

But what depresses me most about An American Carol are the few times it succeeds. As the film progressed, I kept wondering what happened to the guy who got the film off to a good start by poking fun at celebrities raising awareness about world hunger while wolfing down lobster. Zucker actually lands a couple great potshots, so a target as prominent and self-promoting as Michael Moore should've been an easy one. Instead, Zucker makes him yet another victim of the script's insulting generalizations, as well as throwing in a few cheap fat jokes for good measure. The blending of satirical humor and physical pratfalls does not work in the film's favor, especially during an extremely awkward sequence involving Michael smacking his head on a series of bells — amidst the rubble of the Twin Towers. But the cherry on top of this misguided sundae is how much acting talent was assembled and swiftly laid to waste. I'm sure Kevin Farley can be a funny guy, but not when this script has him shoving Twinkies down his throat and parading around as a one-dimensional jerk. Grammer grins and bears it as Patton, Jon Voight pops up in a patronizing cameo as George Washington, and Robert Davi looks positively lost as a terrorist ringleader.

There's a scene in An American Carol in which Bill O'Reilly, playing himself, condemns Michael for making one-sided movies that people will actually listen to. The saddest fact about this film is that there exists an audience for it, people who think the world works in black-and-white and that if you're not with "us," you're with "them." It's a premise that ought to offend anyone regardless of political affiliation, yet An American Carol is a stupid enough picture to buy into it hook, line, and sinker.

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