It is hard to believe that a comedy as singularly inept and downright unfunny as An American Carolcame from one of the three minds behind one of the funniest comedies of all time, Airplane! (I'd argue THE funniest, but that's for another place and time), and harder yet to believe that it somehow weaseled its way onto 1,600+ screens this weekend. But here it is, as witless and tactless as anything 2008 has offered up to date, and in a year where the wonder duo that is Friedberg and Seltzer has shat out not one, but two similarly dreadful offerings, that's saying a lot.p>
In this tale being spun by an absent-minded grandfather (Leslie Nielsen, appearing in one of two roles) at an all-American cookout, our Scrooge surrogate is Michael Malone (Kevin Farley), a liberal-and-then-some filmmaker infamous for his documentaries, with the most recent screed being titled "Die You American Pigs!". To a couple of terrorists (led by Robert Davi), he seems like the ideal candidate to help them replace their Taliban recruitment video; to Malone, they seem like the ideal opportunity for him to finally direct a legitimate feature and earn some respect, in spite of his current campaign to abolish the Fourth of July. Thus it's up to the ghosts of George Washington, George Patton and John F. Kennedy (played by Jon Voight, Kelsey Grammer and Chriss Anglin, respectively) to set Malone on the proper path to patriotism -- a path that can't help but end at a country music concert being held (for the troops, mind you) on Independence Day.
Stripped of any political agenda (as much as possible), the jokes themselves come as fast and furious as they had in Airplane!, with one significant difference: they're not funny. A plantation full of slaves singing "Hava Nagila"? Not funny. Legions of ACLU attorneys getting blasted away like a horde of zombies? Not funny. The closest thing to clever here is a brief reference to Brian de Palma's little-seen Redacted, and even that is wedged in amidst poor slapstick, obvious fat jokes and cheap homophobia (the "those butch lesbians aren't guys after all!" routine is right up there with "that fat lady's not pregnant after all!" in the So-Called Hilarity Hall of Fame).
Then in one of the film's precious few intentionally unfunny moments -- and its arguable low point -- Malone is whisked away to a dust-covered church, where the front doors open to reveal the neighboring remains of the World Trade Center and George Washington points out that the dust all around is actually made up of the ashes of 9/11 victims. (Don't worry, laugh lovers: it doesn't take but a minute for the fatty liberal to run outside and bash his head between two nearby bells.) It's enough to make Rudy Giuliani shake his head in shame, and what are we as an audience really supposed to take away from it? That if we're not laughing for any of the film's other eighty minutes, the terrorists will win? Is that tactic any more radical an approach than anything Michael Moore or his fictional counterpart could pull either on- or off-screen?
Malone may have his petty (and, yes, unfunny) reasons for taking American soldiers to task, but Zucker and his co-writers willfully lump support of the war and support of the soldiers together, and their eagerness to paint a blue-state bullseye with broad strokes is ultimately their undoing. By their logic, loving America and enjoying laughter are two mutually exclusive stances, and that attitude kind of defeats the purpose of political satire in the end.
Look, Team America: World Police took liberal Hollywood to task, including Moore by name (and knocking his weight too), but at least there were genuine laughs there, many of them non-partisan. Trey Parker and Matt Stone made gleefully offensive fun of liberals and conservatives alike, did it with puppets and made an entertainment out of it; here, David Zucker makes gleefully offensive fun of liberals, does it with other kinds of puppets and just makes an embarrassment out of it.