Monday, October 06, 2008

An American Carol

Yes, I saw it. Overall, considering I'm on the opposite side of most of the political points it's lecturing on behalf of, I don't think it's awful. The out-and-out jokes mostly land funny, and as individual vignettes they work just fine. The problem is the structure and the intent: The imposition of the "Christmas Carol" narrative and the fact that director David Zucker has a point to make that, for him, supersedes the jokes causes too many of the "skits" to go flat. You end up with several genuinely amusing, clever "bits" that just DEFLATE before your eyes as Kelsey Grammer shows up in a General Patton costume to explain the premise of the joke, sagely intone the message and deliver the lesson he wants us to take from it. What's more, it tries to go maudlin and serious in the third act, which is DEADLY in a movie like this. It's a unique kind of failure, though.

In case you hadn't heard of this (and, according to it's DISASTEROUS opening weekend take, there's a damn good chance of that) it's David "Airplane!" Zucker's satire of "liberal" politics, celebrities, interest-groups and Michael Moore in particular. It borrows the basic plot of "A Christmas Carol," with Moore look-a-like documentarian Michael Malone (Kevin Farley, Chris Farley's brother and actually very good in this) as he's visited on the eve of July 4th by the ghosts of JFK, Patton, George Washington (Jon Voigt) and Trace Adkins as Death who try to show him the negative impact his anti-patriotism has on his own life and the rest of the country.

During the "journey," some stopover skits include a visit to an alternate-reality South where Slavery still exists because Lincoln was against war, zombie ACLU lawyers, a dance number with aging-hippie College professors gleefully singing about how assured they are that the world situation today is EXACTLY the same as it was in 1968, Malone recieving the "Leni Reifenstahl Award for Documentary Filmmaking" and a visit to a pre-Pearl Harbor 40s anti-war "peace" rally (get it?) An interwoven secondary plot involves a trio of hapless Islamist terrorists (led by Robert Davi!) who are funding Malone's next movie (unknown to him) as a front to stage an attack.

On their own, the sketches themselves are mostly funny... but the follow-up attempts at seriousness kill it. And when it gets into the ALL-serious stuff - like Washington taking Malone back to a freshly-collapsed Ground Zero to lambaste him for his actions and worldview - are just dead in the water. They stop the thing cold, agree or disagree with what's being said.

Anyhoo... the punchline here is that it's a dud. A huge flop. 0pened at #9, despite massive promotion to it's target audience - in the "let's make it a hit to prove a point" vein - on talk radio, Fox News and the web. Here's the abridged version of some figures I dropped over at "Dirty Harry's Place" - a largely sociable and open-minded Republican-leaning movie site - earlier tonight: (original link: )

"I mean, after all, I’ve been reading boxoffice analysis on the right-wing blogosphere for YEARS whenever a “liberal” film fails to outgross “Titanic,” along with the repeated talking points about how this proves that A.) box-office is the only real indicator of quality because it reflects how “da folks” feel, that B.) “liberal” Hollywood is out of touch and that C.) they’re pissing money away because a “conservative” movie would be HUGE if only they made one. So it only seems right and proper to look close at the numbers on this one."

"So, #9. Just to put that in some perspective: It opened behind - and made about 310,00 dollars LESS - on it’s heavily-promoted (on Fox, talk radio and the web) opening weekend than the Kirk-Cameron-fights-fires-for-Christ-movie made in it’s 2nd week PLUMMET. Know what else? It was only one spot ahead of “Religulous”… which was playing in less-than HALF the number of theatres. In fact, in terms of per-screen average Maher’s movie was the second highest ticket-seller, surpassed only be “Beverly Hills Chihuahua.”

"Boxoffice Mojo is FUN, innit? Let’s do s’more. Here’s some movies that opened better than “An American Carol.” See if you can detect a theme:

STOP LOSS: $4,555,117

LIONS FOR LAMBS: $6,702,434

CRASH: $9,107,071

THE CONTENDER: $5,303,900

TRAITOR: $7,868,465 ($10,006,327 when adjusted for three-day weekend)

JARHEAD: $27,726,210

RENDITION: $4,060,012

THE GOOD SHEPHERD: $9,912,110 ($14,142,760 when adjusted for three-day Xmas weekend)

It’s also, BTW, the lowest-grossing opening weekend EVER for a film directed by David Zucker. “Scary Movie 3″ - the absolute worst entry of it’s respective franchise - opened 10.6 TIMES as big. Even “My Boss’s Daughter” - the worst film Zucker has ever made - opened a full thousand bucks higher."

Now, what does all that mean? The same thing it "meant" when all the so-called "liberal" anti-war movies tanked: Bupkiss, really. Not a damn thing, other than that marketing still matters and that American audiences will, given the choice, generally avoid movies that want them to THINK regardless of what type of thoughts are in question. So maybe this can be where BOTH sides put the box-office-tally-to-prove-a-point thing to bed? Please?


tyra menendez said...

personally, part of my problem is that i don't like to see political movies, unless it's a documentary.
the problem with political fiction is it's just that: fiction. it's always slanted by the maker's point of view. if it's done really well, you get a slice of each side, with an ending that leaves you to think about it.
only, i don't think they really make movies like that, anymore. partly, because it's hard; it takes a lot of skill to be able to present something unbiasedly. and that usually remains the territory of documentaries, since a proper journalist is trained to approach everything objectively.

now, for my two cents: comparing the iraq police action to ww 2 and the civil war is ridiculous. when the japanese attacked pearl harbor, the us didn't go after... china, just because it was kinda similar, and the president didn't like china, to begin with. besides the fact that it wasn't a nation that attacked us, in 2001. anyway...
i also think this movie has performed poorly, because, from the ads i couldn't escape watching house, bones, (yeah, real target audience guys...) and south park, it was aimed at rednecks that can't afford the gas to drive the miles to even go to the theater. it may do better on dvd, but the type of people i imagine wanting to see this, don't go see movies, for the most part.
i just saw it as another in the series of republicans bashing anyone who disagrees with them, as hating america. and, i can watch faux news, for free.

Anonymous said...

"'Dirty Harry's Place' - a largely sociable and open-minded Republican-leaning movie site"

An interesting way to describe a steaming shit-pile of reactionary bilge and the brain-dead morons who mostly inhabit it...

Bob said...

"An interesting way to describe a steaming shit-pile of reactionary bilge and the brain-dead morons who mostly inhabit it..."

That's mostly uncalled for.

It's host is a smart guy who plays it fair even in opinion pieces, and every blog will have it's less-pleasant trolls. I don't find it any more or less overtly-objectionable than, say, Jeff Well's "Hollywood Elsewhere" on the other end of the spectrum. You want "reactionary," go check out WorldNetDaily.

T said...

The newest rumor: the official website for the film temporarily featured a report suggesting that 'ticket fraud' was the reason for the film's low grosses and urging filmgoers to check their stubs to ensure they were sold tickets to the proper film. They also supposedly alleged that theaters were misrepresenting the film's rating and declining to advertise the film by refusing to hang posters.

This message subsequently disappeared from the film's website.

tyra menendez said...

isn't that just the new american way...
we can't win by the normal channels, so we'll drum up controversy to make it so we at least win, in the minds of our people.

it was like all that shit with the female, chinese gymnasts... complete with a pseudo-scientist proclaiming the girls couldn't be 16, because of their chin-ratios. never mind that ratios are based on ideals and don't take into consideration aberrations (like jay leno), they're based on europeans! i wanted to that bitch a picture of the actress playing agent lee, on ncis, so she could tell me what she thought of her chin-ratio... twits.

in case you don't know what i'm talking about (good chance), in female gymnastics, at the olympics, the chinese were kicking america's ass, in the team-all-around. so, drama was drummed up about how the girls on the chinese team weren't actually 16 (the new rules state that participants have to be at least 16). all it really accomplished was making america look like a bunch of petty, sore-losers.

Bob said...

Rock-and-a-hard-place on that one, Tyra. On the one hand, given everything that is known about how the Chinese govt. does business and particularly how scarily devoted they were to "stage managing" the entire Olympics into a "coming out party" for themselves as the 21st Century's new superpower and the appearance of the gymnasts (I don't care what race chin-ratios are based on, I know what a child looks like vs a teenager) I don't find it unlikely at all that they cheated.

On the other hand, even if it's obvious you don't make that kind of implication publically unless you can back it up.