Clearly, writer-director Bobcat Goldthwait is annoyed at American society. And the vehicle for his annoyance is this movie, which tries to walk a fine line between pitch-black comedy and vigilante fury, which is not an easy line to tread.
You'll feel the wobble if you see the movie, which doesn't seem especially thought-out. It's smart, all right, and gleefully skewers the absurdities of ignorance, bigotry and thoughtlessness, especially as presented on an "American Idol"-esque TV show that particularly irritates the central character.
He's Frank, played by Joel Murray. Frank works at a grueling office job, is shunned by his ex-wife and daughter, and has just been told he has an inoperable brain tumor.
He figures he has nothing to lose by taking a gun in hand and actually going after the people who embody the degradation of the culture. Goldthwait doesn't make it easy for the audience: Frank's first target is a teenage girl, the shrill star of a reality show.
Part of the movie follows Frank and an adolescent fan of his, played by Tara Lynne Barr, as they hit the road like Bonnie and Clyde. If you can imagine a Bonnie and Clyde who kill people who talk in movie theaters.
The movie doesn't maintain much distance from Frank's anger, no moments of clarity to ask whether Frank's self-appointed status as a vigilante avenger might not be so far away from lunatics who shoot up schoolrooms or idiots who protest at the funerals of military veterans. The kind of people he dislikes.
Goldthwait wants to provoke us, and he succeeds, although there are a few too many times when you might feel as though you've gotten stuck in the seat at the bar next to the guy who "wants to get a few things off his chest" and rants about everything that's wrong with society.
This is no "Clockwork Orange," in short. It is funny at times, though, and it has a fine piece of casting: Joel Murray, the schlumpy younger brother of Bill Murray, a character actor who has knocked around for a while (he found his feet with a terrific occasional character on "Mad Men" in recent years).
Murray has exactly the average-guy look for this role, an interesting combination of laid-back and slightly angry. He gives the film a poignant quality that, taking aim (literally -- used correctly) as it does, it might not otherwise enjoy.
"God Bless America" (2½ stars)
Bobcat Goldthwait directs this scathing satire of America circa 2012, as a frustrated man (Joel Murray, Bill's brother) takes aim -- literally -- at all the moronic excesses of trash culture. The movie doesn't quite have control over its own black comedy, and it has a tendency to hector the audience, but some of it scores.
Rated: R for violence, language, subject matter.
Showing: Uptown theater.
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