Saturday, November 22, 2008

Behind the scenes of An American Carol

As you can probably tell, every movie in my mini-reviews has been viewed on the small screen, at home (most are really old). Back at the beginning of October, Gary and I ventured out and watched a movie in the theatre.

The movie is called An American Carol. Ever heard of it? I haven't encountered many people who have, which is a shame. The film parodies anti-American liberal ideology, and although the slapstick, Three Stooges-esque comedy went far overboard for my taste, it managed to present a very poignant message throughout.

An American Carol ultimately promotes patriotism and gratitude. I believe the extent to which the director, David Zucker, used cartoonish contrivances hurt the viability of his film. But I suppose it is what his audience has come to expect, after series the likes of Airplane and Naked Gun.

Roll-the-eyes goofy humor aside, the message of the film resonated with me, and I found myself wishing everyone would watch movies like this instead of (or at least in addition to) ones like Farenheit 9/11. But apparently people aren't interested in movies that show them why America is still a great nation and why there is more to war than senseless death. The movie wasn't marketed well to begin with, and not surprisingly had a very poor box office showing.

Coincedentally, we went to see this movie on opening night. It is unusual for us to go to the movie theatre at all, but to do so on a weekend is even more rare. So we were disappointed to find a ticket line wrapping around the side of the building. I overheard an employee behind the glass explain to a customer through his little microphone, "our credit machines were down....And Beverly Hills Chihuahua opens tonight." Wow. It's no wonder the general public doesn't have much context in which to place a movie like Carol.

The gist of the plot: A cynical filmmaker with a marked resemblance to one Michael Moore initiates a crusade to abolish the 4th of July Holiday. Meanwhile, Afghani terrorists are finding it increasingly difficult to find good suicide bombers ("and all the good ones are gone"). After viewing his documentaries, they determine that "Michael Malone" hates America as much as they do, and hire him to direct their new recruitment film based on his superb ability to bend the truth. While Malone inadvertently facilitates the terrorists' plan to launch another attack on American soil, he is visited by three spirits who show him the true meaning of 4th of July (a la A Christmas Carol) by taking him through some not-too-ancient moments in World History.

Because this movie promoted such a rare, strong conservative viewpoint, I was very curious about its actors. It featured many big-name celebrities such as Kelsey Grammer, John Voigt, Leslie Nielsen, James Woods, and more. The Michael Moore-inspired character I thought was geniusly portrayed by Kevin Farley, younger brother of the late Chris Farley (one of my teenage crushes). Did these actors view their role as just another Hollywood paycheck? Did they understand the position of the film before agreeing to be in it? Did any get on board specifically to promote its message? If so, were any concerned about sacrificing their careers for the cause?

Enter Google: all-knowing power of the Universe. My searches unearthed some surprising and exciting revelations. There are still people out there who have a love of Country and understand the costs of Freedom in spite of the popular mentality.

The story that amused me most was when the director first met Kevin Farley. Zucker introduced the topic of the film with carefully-chosen words, hoping not to alienate him with the political message of the film. Likewise, Farley assumed that Zucker was a democrat ("like everyone else in Hollywood," he says), so responded with his own strategic vagueness before reading the script and enthusiastically accepting the part.

Farley describes the experience as "a dance familiar to conservative actors in Hollywood. Lots of actors have done it." Apparently Farley usually keeps mum about his political sway among actors, unless "they go off about the president. It just gets annoying."

The admirably articulate Kelsey Grammer is quoted in the same article for saying, "The accepted way to speak about America is in the voice that disrespects it. And the voice that's unacceptable is the one that loves America...How did we get here?"

What the actor playing General George S. Patton described is something that you already know really bothers me: the idea that patriotism is out of fashion, but professing plans to move to socialized countries (whose citizens in turn travel to the US for major medical care) earns a person great respect.

So how do you make a film set amidst the war on terror funny? After all, the subject of war is not particularly hilarious. But the humor that works is based on satirical truths. Anti-war rallies of today mirror-images with those circa 1940 (Oh yes, Germany should have been left to continue their peaceful ways without interference). A scene depicting Neville Chamberlain polishing Hitler's boots as they sign the Munich Agreement (reasoning with radical aggressives is futile). A clip of Rosie "O'Connell's" new documentary "The Truth About Radical Christians" featuring plane-hijacking priests and suicide-bomber nuns. (I won't dispute that religious extremists of any faith can cause trouble, but how often do their antics kill thousands of innocent people?)

One reviewer came down pretty harshly on An American Carol for its vulgar treatment of some delicate issues. While I agree that the movie relied too heavily on undignified slapstick, I don't support Mr. Orndorf's assessment that the film's intent was disingenuous. Specifically, he criticizes a scene depicting Malone and his guiding spirit overlooking Ground Zero because "9/11 isn't funny." Duh. The sobering moment at the base of New York's fallen towers is meant to remind us what we are fighting for. Is war the answer? David Zucker says, "It depends on the question."

I encourage you to rent this movie, if you can find it. Most of the movie reviews I browsed online assigned it adjectives such as "tasteless," "depressing," and "atrocious." I will reiterate that the farcical sight gags do go a bit far. But if you can suffer through a few fat-guy jokes and proverbial pies in the face, then maybe you'll appreciate the message of the film. I only wish it had been showcased a little better. At the very least, Kevin Farley's mannerisms bring back some tender memories of his beloved brother Chris.

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